Jean-Michel Basquiat - 20th Century & Contemporary Art Evening Sale New York Saturday, May 7, 2016 | Phillips

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  • Provenance

    Gracie Mansion Gallery, New York
    Private Collection, New York
    Anon. sale, Drouot - C. Charbonneaux, June 15, 1988, lot 39
    Private Collection, Europe
    Christie's, London, February 9, 2005, lot 006
    Private Collection, Europe
    Phillips, London, October 16, 2013, lot 13, 2013
    Acquired at the above sale by the present owner

  • Exhibited

    New York, Tony Shafrazi Gallery, Four Friends, October 25, 2007 - February 29, 2008

  • Literature

    Richard D. Marshall, Jean-Louis Prat, Jean-Michel Basquiat, Galerie Enrico Navarra, Paris, 1996, vol. II, p. 62, No. 10 (illustrated)
    Richard D. Marshall, Jean-Louis Prat, Jean-Michel Basquiat, Galerie Enrico Navarra, Paris, 2000, 3rd ed., p. 86-87, No. 10 (illustrated)

  • Catalogue Essay

    Jean-Michel Basquiat painted Untitled in 1981, the year widely regarded as the greatest in his short but charged career. This was the year he made the transition from the streets to the studio. These early works married the gritty urbanism of graffiti with his particular and raw symbolism. Depicting the upper torso of an anonymous figure, Untitled embodies the best of Basquiat at his peak. Painted in the artist's archetypal naïve style, the figure, disproportionate in its bodily form, dominates the center of the composition. A central and recurring theme throughout his oeuvre, the human figure provided the perfect vehicle for merging autobiography with references to popular culture and African-American history.

    Basquiat declared that “the black person is the protagonist in most of my paintings.” (Jean-Michel Basquiat, quoted in Henry Geldzahler, “Art: From the Subways to Soho, Jean-Michel Basquiat”, Interview, January 1983) Although the figure in the present lot is anonymous, he stands as a celebration of African-American achievements in a white dominated society. In Untitled, the figure has an elongated right arm; the hand is open revealing the palm and oversized fingers, perhaps alluding to crucifixion or an act of surrender. Further, it symbolizes protest and power, referencing the African-American civil rights movement and political activists such as Martin Luther King, Jr., and Malcolm X. The black power salute came to represent the African-American civil rights movement of the 1960s, the apex of which was the defiant salute of the runners Tommie Smith and John Carlos at the medal ceremony in the 1968 summer Olympics in Mexico City.

    Basquiat’s unmistakable hand is visible throughout the composition, particularly his handling of the scarlet red, gun metal grey and fluorescent yellow color-fields. The energetic and urban-inflected lines of spray paint expand Cy Twombly’s style, which Basquiat cited as being of great influence. The face is typically crude, void of distinct features, a primitive mask-like rendering with an uncomfortably large circular mouth and sharp eyes offering a disconcerting glimpse into the troubled mind of the young artist. And yet, the figure is somewhat heroic, regal and commanding, identifying with Basquiat’s powerful artistic talent, going up against the predominantly white world of the art establishment.

    Untitled, incorporates the most significant iconography from Basquiat’s repertoire. A crown or halo floats over the figure’s head, alluding to the process of canonization or regal assumption. The Xerox paper collage elements contain familiar motifs, the crown, baseball, and shoes, all illustrated in childlike manner. Untitled depicts the conflicted nature of Basquiat’s reality – a proud, incredibly talented black artist surrounded by images of the societally proscribed options seemingly available to a man of his background. successfully documents his stylistic range from expressive painting to conceptual collage and color-field painting. In turn, it follows the progressive construction of the artist’s discordant identity, of a man grappling with the reality that he could make little use of the patterns available to him. However unstable the artist’s personal life and standing, his work remains groundbreaking. Untitled, captures a seminal year of output of an artist who has redirected the course of art history.

  • 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, spray paint, oilstick and Xerox collage on canvas
48 1/4 x 60 in. (122.6 x 152.4 cm)
Signed and dated "Basquiat 81" along the overlap. This work is accompanied by a certificate of authenticity from the Estate of Jean-Michel Basquiat.

$2,000,000 - 3,000,000 

Contact Specialist
Kate Bryan
Head of Evening Sale
New York
+ 1 212 940 1267

20th Century & Contemporary Art Evening Sale

New York Auction 8 May 2016