Jean-Michel Basquiat - Contemporary Art Part I New York Thursday, May 15, 2008 | Phillips
  • Provenance

    Annina Nosei Gallery, New York

  • Exhibited

    Fondazione La Triennale di Milano, The Jean-Michel Basquiat Show, September 19, 2006 - January 28, 2007

  • Literature

    R.D. Marshall, J.L. Prat, eds., Jean-Michel Basquiat, Paris, 1996, vol. I, pp. 146-147 (illustrated); Tony Shafrazi Gallery, ed., Basquiat, New York, 1999, p. 94 (illustrated); R.D. Marshall, J.L. Prat, eds., Jean-Michel Basquiat, Paris, 2000, 3rd Edition, pp. 82-83 (illustrated); R.D. Marshall, J.L. Prat, eds., Jean-Michel Basquiat, Paris, 2000, 3rd Edition, pp. 34-35 (illustrated); Deitch Projects, Jean-Michel Basquiat 1981: The Studio of the Street, New York, 2006, pp. 238-239 (illustrated); G. Mercurio, ed., The Jean-Michel Basquiat Show, Milan, 2006, pp. 74-75 (illustrated)

  • Catalogue Essay

    The ease with which Jean-Michel achieved profundity convinced me of his genius. A seemingly effortless stream of new ideas and images proved the potency of his vision. His life and philosophy, which taught by example and bold gestures, elevated him to the role of a teacher. But perhaps it was his simple honesty that has made him a true hero. Kieth Haring, 1989
    In 1981, the ubiquitous character “SAMO” was making his mark, quite literally, in the underground world of graffiti art across downtown NewYork. An acronym for “Same old Shit,” this unknown character would soon cause a tectonic shift in the art world as Jean-Michel Basquiat. Basquiat’s wildly dynamic emergence in the NewYork art scene at this time is a welldocumented legend. 1981 is considered to be the “first phase” of Basquiat’s oeuvre—one demarcated by genius and uncontrollable artistic output. Already a provocative influence on the streets, Basquiat made a natural shift to the canvas, skillfully adopting the purlieus where he learned to become an artist to the more formal gallery environs. “The NewYork Street is one of Basquiat’s most essential inspirations.The work of 1981 reflects the visual and sonic experience of the streets of the East Village and Lower East Side and the Brooklyn streets where he grew up…Basquiat rejuvenates the Modernist tradition by finding its echo on the contemporary NewYork Street.” (J. Deitch, “1981:The Studio of the Street,” Jean Michel Basquiat, NewYork, 2006, p. 13)
    As Basquiat’s popularity grew, so did the legend that he cultivated. Basquiat stunned and delighted the art world, as Jeffrey Deitch originally wrote in 1982, “Basquiat is likened to the wild boy raised by wolves… A child of the streets gawked at by the intelligentsia. But Basquiat is hardly a primitive. He’s more like a rock star, seemingly savage, but completely in control; astonishingly proficient but scornful of the tough discipline that normally begets such virtuosity,” (J. Deitch, “Jean-Michel Basquiat: Annina Nosei,” Flash Art, NewYork, March 1982, p. 183). Basquiat’s strong, magnetic character and his relentless energy defined this period of time where he was still on fringes of the establishment, well-known within the alternative circles, but not yet canonized through his later relationship with Warhol and other established luminaries.
    Making the transition from the street to the studio is a crucial component of Basquiat’s visual language during these early moments of his career. The nervous, frenetic, and fierce style that Basquiat cultivated was emblematic of his desire to know everything and express his accumulated knowledge through visual symbols. During the cultural sonic of the early 1980s, the artist’s style and iconography capture the charisma and dynamism with impressive authorial assuredness, negotiating the critical boundary between pictorial cacophony and compositional genius.This astounding energy in the nascent period of Basquiat’s artistic career would become a definitive strategy of creative deconstruction. Splicing and juxtaposing images and ideas from the two worlds he straddled during 1981 would eventually establish his signature style.
    Dominated by the figure of a large angel, rendered in staccatoed red, yellow and black lines, floating against a luminous blue background, Untitled (Fallen Angel) is a supreme example of Basquiat’s early artistic output. Paramount to Untitled (Fallen Angel) is the rapacious creativity and unrepentant vigor contained within each brushstroke.The vivacious tonal qualities of the work represent a radical fusion of street drawing onto the Modernist canvas. “The colors are not those of easel painting, obtained while learning a craft and constantly worked on. They are lively, swift colors of the street, both vibrant and fading, affixed and opposing, distant but not foreign,” (J. Prat,The “Child King of the Eighties,” Jean-Michel Basquiat, Paris, 1996, p. 9).The unsophisticated, complex layers of paint and line contain an unrestrained primitivism that eschews high artistic conventions. “Obliterated, cancelled and erased marks are routinely deployed to draw us into the core of the work as much as the primordial elements that seem to rise out of it,” (T. Shafrazi, “Basquiat: Messenger of the Sacred and the Profane,” Jean-Michel Basquiat, New York, 1999, p. 19.).The brutal, strong lines and loud, demanding colors are emblematic exorcisms of Basquiat’s spirited character.
    The angel is represented in much way the same as all of Basquiat’s figures were during this time. A skeletal figure composed in the style of Dubuffet and Art Brut, Basquiat’s angel appears both conflicted and endearing, much as the artist was himself at the time the work was painted. Basquiat’s experiences as a young man of Haitian and Puerto Rican descent endow his oeuvre with a sense of angst.The image of an angel, historically a Judeo-Christian icon, was “really more about historical stuff than religious. He used this iconography to discuss the present—his experience. It wasn’t to talk about the history. It was to talk about the experience of a black man in America,” (S. Mallouk, “Suzanne Mallouk Remembers,” Jean-Michel Basquiat: 1981 The Studio of the Street, NewYork, 2006, p. 102). In addition to the angel, another iconic symbol in Basquiat’s oeuvre is the crown, which appears over the angel’s left wing in the present lot.The meaning found in Basquiat’s sign systems is central to the emotive content of the work. Both the angel and the crown are central metaphors for Basquiat’s understanding of his own personal mission and, eventually, they would become emblems of the artist’s concern for his historical legacy.
    Basquiat’s sense of himself as an artist was strongly influenced by his own well-versed knowledge of art history. As a child, the artist’s mother delighted in taking the young Basquiat to the city’s cultural institutions and the artist was particularly enthralled by the cubist work of Picasso. Evident throughout Basquiat’s output, the artistic legacy of Picasso is adroitly reinterpreted through the use of primitivism as an exotic escape from the formalism that dominated post-modern art. Untitled (Fallen Angel) characterizes Basquiat’s embrace of this language while simultaneously manipulating it to express the covert feelings of contemporary angst that were wide spread amongst his generation.
    Basquiat’s vast imagination allowed for him to draw upon, combine and deconstruct wildly among his sources. This melting-pot of ideas is thrust up on his canvases with an urgency that conveys joy and ecstasy, suffering and sadness in a single voracious breath. Basquiat’s iconography is representative of an imbalance in a culture that is always in search of references and myths.The artist came of age in a period where society was tired of images and by cultivating urban stereotypes, Basquiat introduced a new symbolic language into American society:Everybody says the influence is Twombly, some say Dubuffet, or Picasso, or Warhol. Sure, he was brilliantly educated, not by art school, but by himself. He knew everything about TV, P-Funk, Picasso, Superman, reggae and dub, Gray’s Anatomy, Twombly, Bullwinkle, the beats, Haitian vevers, fashion, jazz from Pops to Bob to the Cool school. And he owned every Hitchcock film money could buy. G. O’Brien, “Dozens of Rambling Red Roses for Jean,” Jean-Michel Basquiat, NewYork, 1999, p. 30
    Basquiat’s myriad interests reflect the artist’s ability to turn popular culture into an intellectual pursuit.The ability to visually manifest the destruction of images in such a way that evidences the disorder and confusion of time is what makes Basquiat’s work so modern. From these disparate and once unlikely, now ubiquitous, influences we arrive at a narrative that is firmly contained both within Basquiat’s charismatic personality and the cultural moment which he came to embody.
    Although Jean-Michel Basquiat’s painting may not look much like painting, so vehement and so straight forward, it clearly marks its difference. It is an extraordinary declaration imposed by this young man, bursting with life, who seems to have carried within him from the very beginning an intense and tragic destiny that identifies him with artists who have also broken with tradition by imposing their crucial truth. J. Prat, “The Child King of the Eighties,” Jean-Michel Basquiat, Paris, 1996, p. 9
    Untitled (Fallen Angel) represents Basquiat’s ascendancy in the international art world. Unparalleled in it’s ambition, the present lot represents Basquiat’s earliest crowning achievement as an accomplished artist.

  • Artist Biography

    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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Untitled (Fallen Angel)


Acrylic and oilstick on canvas.

66 x 78 in. (167.6 x 198.1 cm).

Signed and dated “Jean-Michel Basquiat 1981” on the reverse.

$12,000,000 - 16,000,000 

Sold for $11,241,000

Contemporary Art Part I

15 May 2008, 7pm
New York