Jean-Michel Basquiat - 20th Century & Contemporary Art Evening Sale New York Thursday, May 18, 2017 | Phillips

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  • Provenance

    Larry Gagosian Gallery, Los Angeles
    Earl Goldberg, Los Angeles
    Manny Silverman Gallery, Los Angeles
    Baron Boisanté Editions, New York
    Private Collection, New York

  • Catalogue Essay

    Distinguished by its all-over composition, Jean-Michel Basquiat’s Untitled is a unique example of the artist’s celebrated works on paper. Executed in 1986, Untitled exhibits many of the motifs and techniques that established Basquiat’s prodigy and which cumulatively contributed to his brief but meteoric career. Basquiat has, in Untitled, created a powerful phantasmagoria, which is distinctly his own.

    Basquiat’s distinct persona and personal history quickly supplanted his actual creative abilities in the critical and art-market realms, but it was also those singular qualities that imbued the artist with the creative energies to develop his unique style. Basquiat’s wild and expressive representations of his distinct world and arena blew through the heady and minimal art of the preceding decade. The depictions in Untitled of “invisible” shadow figures, assorted anatomical representations, crawling spiders and stretched webs, bags of money, seemingly nonsensical text, tombstones and more were all, in their own way, derived from and a part of the artist’s immediate experiences. Each motif within Basquiat’s oeuvre is like a breadcrumb left by the artist which the viewer can follow, often in many divergent and synchronous paths, back to the artist.

    By 1986, Basquiat had already established himself as the creative voice and vision of the decade. No longer a street-side scribe, marking Bowery buildings with his trademark ©SAMO tag, he had already collaborated with Andy Warhol and his raw, visionary style was known around the world. The pressures of his renown wore greatly on the young artist; however, what is evident in Untitled is that despite his personal tribulations, his tenacity as a creator was undimmed. Indeed, the astounding complexity of the composition of this work testifies to his resilience and inability to quietly or quickly relinquish his crown. By this point, the bags of money depicted are his, the shadow figures no longer reside in the background but come front and center whereas the anatomical imagery and language (a fixation of his since suffering an accident at a young age and being gifted a copy of Gray’s Anatomy by his mother) slip discretely behind the maze of other descriptors. Two particularly interesting motifs are the proliferation of spiders, and their webs, as well the singular word “BLACKISH”. Struggling with addiction throughout the later stages of his career and life, Basquiat may be alluding to the entrapment of his dependency and that cliché sensation of “bugs under the skin” suffered by addicts in withdrawal. Similarly, his blackness, otherness, was both a source of pride and consternation and was called into question on occasion as his fame pushed him towards the mainstream and his Haitian heritage became more a party line than anything else.

    Arguably the artist to embody the artistic fulminations percolating throughout the New York art scene of the 1980s, the development of which is currently the focus of a major exhibition at the Whitney Museum of American Art, Jean-Michel Basquiat’s contribution to the contemporary canon is impossible to understate. His later works have often been denigrated as less sincere or engaged than that of his early production; however, one can readily see that his powers were not so much diminished as they were redirected. As opposed to depicting the external, Basquiat turned inwards, examining his own position even as his health was steadily declining and his fame continuing to balloon. Untitled is a testament to that will – the minimalism of his later work abandoned for the freneticism of his early material; the continued exploration of his position, both psychologically and within the context of his milieu; that he could never, would never, stop creating up until his untimely death at 27.

  • 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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signed and dated "Jeanmichel 1986" on the reverse
charcoal, graphite and colored pencil on paper
30 x 22 1/4 in. (76.2 x 56.5 cm.)
Executed in 1986.

$1,200,000 - 1,800,000 

Sold for $1,030,000

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

20th Century & Contemporary Art Evening Sale

New York Auction 18 May 2017