Thermopolae

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  • Condition Report

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  • Provenance

    Galerie Bruno Bischofsberger, Zurich
    Rupert J. Smith, New York
    Leo Malca Collection, New York
    Acquired from the above by the present owner

  • Exhibited

    Tokyo, Galerie Sho, Jean-Michel Basquiat: Paintings and Drawings, 1993, cat. no. 2 (illustrated)
    Santander, Fundacion Marcelino Botin, Jean-Michel Basquiat. Ahuyentando fantasmas, 15 June - 14 September 2008, p. 135 (illustrated)
    Rome, Fondazione Memmo, Jean-Michel Basquiat: Fantasmi da sccaciare, 2 October 2008 - 1 February 2009, pp. 120-121 (illustrated, p. 121)
    Luxembourg, Zidoun-Bossuyt Gallery, Jean-Michel Basquiat Now!, 4 May - 4 June 2016

  • Literature

    Jean-Louis Prat and Richard D. Marshall, Jean-Michel Basquiat, Paris, 1996, vol. 1, pp. 371, 399 (illustrated, p. 371)
    Nathalie Pratt-Couteau and Enrico Navarra eds., Jean-Michel Basquiat, Paris, 1996, vol. 1, p. 320-21,401 (illustrated, p. 321)
    Nathalie Pratt-Couteau and Enrico Navarra eds., Jean-Michel Basquiat , Paris, 2000, p. 307 (illustrated)
    Nathalie Pratt-Couteau and Enrico Navarra eds., Jean-Michel Basquiat , Paris, 2000, p. 230-31 (illustrated, p. 230)

  • Catalogue Essay

    The Radiant Child

    Jean-Michel Basquiat, dubbed “the radiant child” by the American art critic Rene Ricard, was an extraordinarily gifted neo-expressionist painter with an ability to shock, inspire and get under the skin of his viewers past and present (Rene Ricard, ‘The Radiant Child’, Artforum, December 1981). Self-taught, with a restless and prolific mind, he developed a unique visual vocabulary drawn from his Haitian and Puerto Rican heritage, pop culture, history, poetry and his enduring fascination for Abstract Expressionist art. His intellectual curiosity led to a defiant insistence on portraying challenging themes, relying on layers of meaning enfolded within a complexity of symbols to convey incisive social commentary and speak to dichotomies such as wealth and poverty, integration and segregation, and the inner versus outer experience.

    The Battle of Thermopolae

    Thermopolae, created in the later years of Basquiat’s brief but intense artistic career, is in many ways an anti-painting, a subversive allegorical masterpiece that draws on the same narratives and Classical mythological roots of the elevated Western historical genre, but upturns accepted moral, spiritual, political meanings to speak passionately about life, death, love, virtue, and justice in postwar America, particularly amongst the Afro-American community and other marginalised bodies. Through Thermopolae and his protagonist the anti-warrior, Basquiat gleefully dismantles the cultural tropes and iconography of “the Other”, a fundamentally reductive narrative of weakness and deficiency concerning non-Western peoples, which emerged predominantly from Western colonial thinking as a means of supporting established hegemonies and hierarchies of domination.

    Thermopolae is a reference to the Battle of Thermopylae in 480 BC, fought between the doomed Greeks and invading Persians at the narrow coastal pass of Thermopylae (in Latin, "the hot gates"). In the hands of Basquiat’s wordplay (a precocious child, Basquiat was fluent in English, French and Spanish by the age of 11), the title of the battle becomes bastardised - “a little heat”, rather than the most famous military last stand of Western civilisation.

    Basquiat was fascinated by the power and vulnerability of marginalised bodies. Obsessed with anatomy since being gifted a copy of the famous medical and artistic treatise Gray’s Anatomy as a young child by his mother as he lay recovering in hospital after being hit by a car, Basquiat’s anti-hero, a naked, shitting, overly-endowed, dark-skinned savage-warrior waving a spear, manifests a visible skull, ribcage, sinew and spilling guts. He is the physical antithesis of his counterpart in Jacques-Louis David’s neoclassical (and notoriously homoerotic) masterpiece Leonidas at Thermopylae (1814). Sitting erect, with marble-like alabaster skin bathed in light and his eyes turned towards heaven, nude but for an embroidered cloak and elaborately feathered helmet, the Spartan King Leonidas epitomises the classical ideals of male virtue, beauty and heroic self-sacrificial courage. The phallic scabbard barely hiding his modesty, Leonidas wields a gleaming sword in one hand and a long dark spear in the other. In the same vein, the famous Greek Eurymedon vase depicts a terrified Persian archer submitting to sexual humiliation at the hands of his virile Greek captor. But in Thermopolae Basquiat’s protagonist is the undisputed aggressor, and the subversive masculinity of this so-called barbarian repudiates classical iconography with a compelling and savage force. Basquiat follows in the footsteps of artists such as Picasso who with his painting Les Demoiselles d'Avignon (1907) “replaced the benign ideal of the Classical nude with a new race of sexually armed and dangerous beings” (Holland Cotter, ‘When Picasso Changed His Tune’, The New York Times, 10 February 2011).

    The artist-warrior

    Thermopolae’s anti-hero sports dreadlocks remarkably similar to Basquiat’s own hairstyle, and on the adjoining panel can be seen the Greek letters "IDYSOΣIN", a syncopated version of ‘idiosyncrasy’, or outsider. Basquiat's paintings became a tool for introspection and for identifying with his experiences in the African American community of his time, whilst inserting himself into the role of his subjects became a way of honouring and acknowledging their experiences.

    When read as a self-portrait, the burning bush and flames behind the protagonist’s back suddenly take on urgent meaning as well. The story of the burning bush, aflame but not consumed by the fire, is the story told in the Book of Exodus about the moment God charged Moses with freeing his people from slavery under the Egyptians. The bush is an acutely political rallying cry: a criticism of colonialism and support for class struggle.

    Basquiat took this duty seriously, and Thermopolae revisits Basquiat’s Untitled (History of the Black People) (1983), which juxtaposes images of the Atlantic slave trade alongside images of the Egyptian slave trade centuries before. The Thermopolae warrior’s stark profile and frontal position of the torso allude to Egyptian figural representation, and consequently reclaiming Egyptian culture as fundamentally African “subverts the concept of ancient Egypt as the cradle of Western Civilisation" (Andrea Frohne, ‘Representing Jean-Michel Basquiat’ in Isidore Okpewho et al (eds.), The African Diaspora: African Origins and New World Identities, Indiana, 1999, pp. 439–451).

    Using his paintings to also attack power structures and systems of institutionalised racism, the Irony of Negro Policeman (1981) depicts how African-Americans under the control of a predominantly Caucasian society become complicit with "institutionalised forms of whiteness and corrupt white regimes of power" (Andrea Frohne, ‘Representing Jean-Michel Basquiat’, pp. 439–451).

    ‘I don't think about art when I'm working. I try to think about life.’

    Basquiat’s paintings were a ‘calculated improvisation’; like beat poets who composed their writing from shredded scraps, he remixed his materials and themes compulsively and instinctively, working on multiple projects at once in his studio using found materials, oilstick, crayons, spray paint, pencil and acrylic paints at the same time. When he couldn't afford canvases, he fashioned them out of discarded wood found on the street, and consequently Thermopolae is an ironic ‘diptych’ fashioned from a repurposed door and fence.

    Fascinated by the power of the written word since the beginning of his career (from his graffiti days as SAMO, tagging a mixture of strange symbols and social commentary in the streets of Manhattan, to his experimental 1983 hip hop record ‘Beat Pop’, now referred to as the ‘Holy Grail’ of hip hop artists), Basquiat frequently encoded his paintings with slang and cryptic codes, spontaneously pulling together quotes and images from books kept open on his studio floor. The letters "FRSH" are overwritten on the third line and repeated at the end of the fourth line of the panel on the right. Taken from the line "we’re fresh out of the pack" in a 1982 rap by Grand Wizard Theodore & The Fantastic 5, it has become a word that epitomises the epic life and work of Basquiat, the original artist.

  • Catalogue Essay

    光芒四射的孩子

    尚·米榭·巴斯奇亞,被美國藝術評論家雷内·里卡德稱為「光芒四射的孩子」,是一位天賦異稟的新表現主義畫家,他擁有震撼、啟發,並讓觀者念念不忘的能力,不管是過去還是現在(雷内·里卡德,《光芒四射的孩子》,《藝術論壇》,1981年12月)。他自學成才,憑藉一個躁動、精怪豐盈的頭腦,從自身的海地和波多黎各血源文化背景、流行文化、歷史、詩歌以及對抽象表現主義藝術長期以來的癡迷中汲取靈感,發展出了一種獨特的視覺語彙。他對知識的好奇心將他引向對具有挑戰性主題之描繪的反叛性堅持,依靠複雜的符號中所包含之層層含義來傳遞尖銳的社會評論,和去審視財富與貧窮、融合與隔離以及內在與外在體驗等之間的對立。

    温泉關之役

    創作於巴斯奇亞短暫而激烈的藝術生涯後期,《熾熱的門》一作從許多方面來說都是一件反繪畫的、顛覆性的寓言式傑作,借鑒了來自西方重要之歷史題材中近似的敘事和古典神話根源,但翻轉被人們所接受的道德、精神、政治意義去滿腔熱情地討論關於戰後美國的生、死、愛、道德,以及公正,尤其是在美國黑人社群和其他邊緣化群體中。通過《熾熱的門》以及畫中的反戰主角,巴斯奇亞欣喜地將「他者」的文化取向和標誌卸除,「他者」作為對非西方人種的軟弱和缺陷從根本上還原其敘事,主要來自西方殖民主義為主導性的,霸權統治和階級制度。

    《熾熱的門》是對公元前480年的溫泉關之役之指涉,該戰役發生在註定將會戰敗的希臘人和入侵的波斯人之間於狹窄的沿海通道Thermopylae(拉丁文中,字意為「熱的入口、熾熱的門」)。在巴斯奇亞的文字遊戲中(作為一個早熟的孩子,巴斯奇亞在11歲時便精通英語、法語和西班牙語),這場戰役的標題被「變種」為——「一點點熱」,而非西方文明中最著名的軍事關守。

    巴斯奇亞著迷於邊緣化群體所具有的力量和脆弱性。當他幼年時,有一次被車撞傷後躺在醫院進行康復時,母親送了他一本著名的醫學和藝術著作《格雷氏解剖学》,自那之後他癡迷於解剖學。巴斯奇亞的反英雄人物,一個赤裸著身體、正在排糞的、有著巨大陽具的、深色皮膚的野人戰士揮動著長矛,展現出外露的頭骨、胸腔、肌腱和溢出的內臟。他是雅克-路易·大衛的新古典主義(同時也是眾所週知的同性情色的)傑作《雷奧尼達在溫泉關》(1814年)的對立面人物。大衛創作中坐得直挺的主人公,如大理石般的皮膚沐浴在光線之中,目光轉向天堂,赤裸的身體披著繡花斗篷,戴著精緻羽毛的頭盔,斯巴達國王雷奧尼達代表理想化的古典男性美德、美和英雄主義的自我犧牲之勇氣。堅挺的劍鞘絲毫掩飾不住他的謙遜,雷奧尼達一隻手揮舞著發光的劍,另一隻手持長長的黑矛。同樣,著名的希臘尤瑞米頓河花瓶,則描繪了一個驚恐的波斯弓箭手屈服於他那強勢之俘獲者的性侮辱之下。但是在《熾熱的門》中,巴斯奇亞的主人公為一個無可爭議的侵略者,而這個所謂的野蠻人的顛覆性男子氣概,以一種迷人的野蠻力量推翻了經典的肖像畫。巴斯奇亞緊隨畢卡索等畫家的腳步,後者的畫作《亞維農的少女》(1907年)「以一種新的、用性武裝自己的,且危險的種族存在取代了古典裸體畫中之理想溫順形象」(霍蘭·科特,《當畢加索改變了他的調調》,《紐約時報》,2011年2月10日)。

    藝術家-戰士

    《熾熱的門》作品中的反英雄人物梳著與巴斯奇亞本人相似的雷鬼頭,並且在旁邊的畫板上可以看到希臘字母「IDYSOΣIN」,即「idiosyncrasy」或作局外人的簡寫版本。巴斯奇亞的畫作成為他內省的工具,以及在當時的非裔美國人社群中對與自己相似經歷的尋找,同時將自身置身於作品中的人物身上,成為一種尊敬和認可他們經歷的方式。

    當被視為自畫像時,主角身後燃燒的灌木叢和火焰也突然具有迫切的意義。燃燒著卻未被大火吞噬的灌木叢故事,來自《出埃及記》,講述的是上帝指控摩西將他的人民,從埃及人的奴役中解脫出來的那一刻。叢林是強烈的政治集會呼籲:對殖民主義的批評和對階級鬥爭的支持。

    巴斯奇亞認真履行了這一職責,而《熾熱的門》重新審視了他的《無題》(《黑人歷史》)(1983年),該作品將大西洋奴隸貿易圖像與幾個世紀前的埃及奴隸貿易圖像並列在一起。 《熾熱的門》中的戰士赤裸的身體和軀幹正面的位置暗示著對埃及文物中人像的再現,因此將埃及文化從根本上重申為非洲文化。從而「顛覆了古埃及作為西方文明發源地的概念」(Andrea Frohne,《代表尚·米榭·巴斯奇亞》,摘自伊西多爾·俄卡皮豪等人(編輯),《非洲流散人口:非洲起源和新世界身份》,印第安納州,1999年,第439-451頁)。

    藝術家還利用他的繪畫來攻擊權力結構和製度化種族主義系統,《黑人警察的諷刺》(1981年)描繪了在白人占主導地位的社會中非裔美國人如何與「制度化形式的白人和腐敗的白人政權」共謀(Andrea Frohne,《代表尚·米榭·巴斯奇亞》,第439–451頁)。

    「創作時我不去考慮藝術。我嘗試思考人生。」

    巴斯奇亞的繪畫是一種「有編排的即興」;就像被擊敗之一代的詩人用碎紙屑寫作,他既強迫性又本能性地對他的材料和主題進行混合,在他的工作室中使用現成品、油畫棒、蠟筆、噴漆、鉛筆和壓克力顏料同時進行多個項目的創作。當他買不起畫布時,他用街上撿來的廢棄木頭來創作,因此,《熾熱的門》是一幅具有諷刺意味的「雙聯畫」,由重新架構的門板和圍欄組合而成。

    自其職業生涯開始起就對文字的力量著迷(從他在SAMO塗鴉時期開始,在曼哈頓的街道中貼上奇怪的符號和社會評論的混合體,再到1983年實驗性的嘻哈唱片《Beat Pop》,現在這張唱片被稱為嘻哈創作者的「聖杯」),巴斯奇亞經常用俚語和隱秘的代碼對他的繪畫加上編碼,不時從他工作室地上打開的書本中抓取引句和圖像。字母「FRSH」在第三行被覆蓋,並在右側畫板的第四行的末尾重複。 取自1982年由Grand Wizard Theodore和The Fantastic 5製作的饒舌曲目中的「我們從束縛中掙脫了」,這句歌詞已成為對巴斯奇亞這位具有原創性的藝術家的傳奇人生和作品的縮影。

  • Artist Bio

    Jean-Michel Basquiat

    American • 1960 - 1988

    One of the most famous American artists of all time, Jean-Michel Basquiat first gained notoriety as a subversive graffiti-artist and street poet in the late 1970s. Operating under the pseudonym SAMO, he emblazoned the abandoned walls of the city with his unique blend of enigmatic symbols, icons and aphorisms. A voracious autodidact, by 1980, at 22-years of age, Basquiat began to direct his extraordinary talent towards painting and drawing. His powerful works brilliantly captured the zeitgeist of the 1980s New York underground scene and catapulted Basquiat on a dizzying meteoric ascent to international stardom that would only be put to a halt by his untimely death in 1988.

    Basquiat's iconoclastic oeuvre revolves around the human figure. Exploiting the creative potential of free association and past experience, he created deeply personal, often autobiographical, images by drawing liberally from such disparate fields as urban street culture, music, poetry, Christian iconography, African-American and Aztec cultural histories and a broad range of art historical sources.

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Property from an Important European Collection

Thermopolae

1985
signed with the artist's initials, titled and dated '"THERMOPOLAE" JMB 1985' on the reverse
enamel, acrylic, wax crayon on wood
218.5 x 134.5 cm. (86 x 52 7/8 in.)
Executed in 1985.

Estimate
HK$26,000,000 - 38,000,000 
€2,990,000-4,370,000
$3,330,000-4,870,000

Place Advance Bid
Contact Specialist
Charlotte Raybaud
Head of Evening Sale, 20th Century & Contemporary Art

20th Century & Contemporary Art Evening Sale

Hong Kong Auction 24 November 2019