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  • Provenance

    Vrej Baghoomian Gallery, New York; The Beckman Collection, New York

  • Exhibited

    New York, Vrej Baghoomian Gallery, Jean-Michel Basquiat, October 21 - November 25, 1989

  • Literature

    F. Pellizzi, G. O’Brian, & D. Cortez, eds., Jean Michel Basquiat: 21 October to 25 November 1989, New York, 1989, n.p., pl. 33 (illustrated); R.D. Marshall, J. Pratt, eds., Jean-Michel Basquiat, 1996, vol. II, pl. 6, p. 150 (illustrated). R.D. Marshall, J. Pratt, eds., Jean-Michel Basquiat, 3rd Edition, Paris, 2000, pl. 2, pp. 254-255 (illustrated);

  • Catalogue Essay

    Jean-Michel Basquiat remains one of the most intriguingly complex artists to have dominated the New York art world and the present lot, Untitled, highlights the artistic genius behind the superstar persona. Painted in 1987, this extraordinary work showcases the artist’s adaptation to the transition from New York graffiti artist to bona fide art world darling. Visually arresting with its chaotic assemblage of fiercely expressive heads, random groupings of text, and collage elements, it is clear that the artist’s intent was to assault the canvas-the imagery is barely contained within the rectilinear structure and its restrictions are discarded as the life within the work is propelled off the picture plane. This work highlights the artist’s uncanny ability to execute a work of immense size and significance which was fundamental in sustaining his power to transcend the individual and address broader issues, resulting in a direct confrontation with the contemporary environment of his time.
    Dominating the center of Untitled are three figures: the principal one being an inky black one-eyed torso, arms outstretched and spinal cord dangling into the lower half of the canvas. Flanked on either side of the torso, an outline sketch of a bat with wings extended and a brightly colored disembodied head, which is exemplary of an early motif of Basquiat’s that would eventually underpin the artist’s work for the rest of his career. Born to a Haitian father and a Puerto Rican mother and raised in the cultural crucible of Brooklyn, Basquiat was fascinated by his rich mixture of cultural heritage and its artistic legacy.The skull in the present work clearly demonstrates his knowledge of African reliquary masks with their haptic emphasis on teeth and eyes, not dissimilar to the Nkisi figures of the Hemba culture (cf. figure 1). Shamanistic, Basquiat’s heads resonate with an aggression that is part spiritual, part violent. This reference to his heritage and upbringing ultimately provided him with countless sources of artistic inspiration.
    Despite Basquiat’s prominent positioning of the figures, which explore his obsession with mortality, the work refuses a cohesive interpretation as his characteristic abstraction takes hold. Surrounding the totemic head, elongated torso and bat is a complex web of signs and symbols, constituting the vocabulary of Basquiat’s own hieroglyphic language. Graffiti text, paper collage cutouts, and talismanic symbols replete with repetitive phrases and sketches appear to be loaded with codified import- his work has been compared to the intricate patterns and spirit of jazz, bebop, and hip hop music. His fascination with word-play and the uses of language is displayed here as we are presented with the zeitgeist dialect of early 1980s NewYork urban street culture.This personalization of dialect, with seemingly subconscious messages to the viewer, recalls the work of CyTwombly and his lyrical externalization of the stream-of-consciousness writings of James Joyce. (cf. Figure 2). As Richard Marshall notes, this inclusion of various textual themes, “revealed a confluence of his many interests and energies, and their actual contents – the words – describe the subjects of importance to Basquiat. He continually selected and injected into his works words which held charged references and meanings- particularly to his deep-rooted concerns about race, human rights, the creation of power and wealth, and the control and valuation of natural elements, animals, and produce—all this in addition to references to his ethnic heritage, popular culture and respected or infamous figures from history and the entertainment world.” (R. Marshall,Whitney Museum of American Art, Jean-Michel Basquiat, NewYork, 1992, p. 21). Basquiat’s candid authenticity and rawness flourishes in this work as the artist recounts a specific time and place, NewYork in the late 1980s, by incorporating the language and imagery that embodied the culture of the downtown art and street scenes.
    Basquiat’s iconographic repertoire, confrontational and immediate, unrepentant and consuming, highlights his commitment to visually recording the events of his time.This work, executed only one year before his death, showcases his deep felt concerns with issues of death, race, identity, and aesthetics. Basquiat’s ability to convey these concerns, through his use of bold, fragmented imagery and his powerful visual lexicon and are visceral and engaging and transform the viewer into the wholly original world that the artist called his own.

  • 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 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. 

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Acrylic, oilstick, and color copy collage on canvas.

100 x 114 in. (254 x 289.6 cm).

Initialed and dated “JMB 87” on the reverse.

$2,800,000 - 3,000,000 

Sold for $2,281,000

Contemporary Art Part I

15 May 2008, 7pm
New York