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

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  • Provenance

    Acquired from the artist by the present owner

  • Literature

    Richard D. Marshall and Jean-Louis Prat, Jean-Michel Basquiat, Vol. I, Paris, 1996, no. 5, p. 82 (illustrated)
    Richard D. Marshall and Jean-Louis Prat, Jean-Michel Basquiat, 3rd Ed., Vol. II, Paris, 2000, no. 5, p. 131 (illustrated)
    Jordana Moore Saggese, Reading Basquiat: Exploring Ambivalence in American Art, Berkeley, 2014, p. 73

  • Catalogue Essay

    By the time Jean-Michel Basquiat painted Untitled (Venus 2000 B.C.) in 1982 he had established himself as the impresario of the international art world within an exhilarating period of just a few years. Basquiat, born in 1960 to a Haitian father and a Puerto-Rican mother in New York, first gained notoriety in the late 1970s as the subversive graffiti-artist and street poet operating under the pseudonym SAMO©. A voracious autodidact, Basquiat soon shifted from spray painting enigmatic aphorisms across the Lower East Side of Manhattan to painting and drawing in the studio - first on reclaimed materials and later on canvas and paper. His powerful, iconoclastic works brilliantly captured the decadent zeitgeist of the 1980s New York underground scene and catapulted Basquiat to both critical acclaim and international stardom. Basquiat’s re-introduction of the human figure came at a time when the contemporary art field was dominated by the triumph of Minimalism and Conceptualism in the late 1960s and 70s, establishing him as one of main proponents of the Neo-Expressionist movement in New York during the 1980s.

    At the beginning of 1982, Basquiat was working out of the expansive studio in the basement of Annina Nosei's Prince Street gallery, where his first solo exhibition would be held that March. That year also found him travelling extensively, first in Modena, Italy and then later in Los Angeles where he worked out of a studio provided by his dealer there, Larry Gagosian, who introduced him to numerous prestigious West Coast collectors including Eli and Edythe Broad. 1982 was momentous for Basquiat, and Untitled (Venus 2000 B.C.), executed then, resonates with all the creative energies and artistic momentum that he manifested from coast to coast and around the world.

    Untitled (Venus 2000 B.C.) is executed in acrylic and oilstick on a canvas that has been stretched over a rudimentary wooden support. Basquiat’s connection to the street and to its immediacy did not suddenly dissipate once he began working out of a proper studio. Rather, he found a way to incorporate many of those same elements which imbued his graffiti with such gravitas into his paintings. Building such a jury-rigged stretcher for his Untitled (Venus 2000 B.C.) is a clear indication that while his paintings were beginning to sell for substantial sums of money, his creative drive was not to be sanitized by his commercial successes. His art was both derived from, and created out of, the detritus of the Lower East Side and global environs that he called home. The purity of the materials with which he executed Untitled (Venus 2000 B.C.) imbues the work with a palpable rawness. Basquiat’s audience responded enthusiastically to these new supports. Rene Ricard exclaimed that, "He's finally figured out a way to make a stretcher...that is so consistent with the imagery...they do look like signs, but signs for a product modern civilization has no use for." (Rene Ricard, “The Pledge of Allegiance,” Artforum, vol. XXI, no. 3, November 1982, p. 48)

    The painted composition of Untitled (Venus 2000 B.C.) is comprised of a myriad of Basquiat’s most potent symbols. Notably, the eponymous Venus figure of the title dominates the canvas. For Basquiat, “Venus” always represented his girlfriend, Suzanne Mallouk whom he first met back in 1980 at the Manhattan dive bar Night Birds. Venus, the Roman goddess, representing Suzanne, the embodiment of love and sexuality, does so only as a distinct outline. Basquiat does not render Venus in her traditionally voluptuous and enchanting manner, but rather as a depiction of an already ruined statue, armless, headless, a time-frozen form which he can observe only from a distance – a historical object of admiration and worship.

    Venus, while dominating the composition, does not exist in a vacuum. Accompanying her metaphoric beauty is Basquiat’s creative genius as manifested in the expressionistic scrawls and encrypted imagery that populates the far corners of this distorted stretcher. Capping the form of Venus is an archetypal Basquiat trope – the graffito’s text. VENUS – writ large as if on the side of a yellow schoolbus, train car, building broadside – crowns the headless form. Seeking inspiration from seemingly every angle, from his Caribbean roots to Western religious figures to classical mythology, Basquiat gleaned the simplistic representational forms of goddesses, martyrs, saints and crowns. Like some sort of contemporary petroglyph, Venus presents itself as a coded conglomeration of text, symbols, and color which does not readily expose either Basquiat’s intent or any sort of objective meaning. What they do is dramatically reveal the artist’s own hand, heart, and drive. Indeed, the © in the lower left establishes this as HIS painting and harkens back to those days as a streetside philosopher penning elliptical decrees on the sides of buildings signed with that particular SAMO© tag – SAMe Old shit. An inveterate conjurer, Basquiat’s painting was a new sort of creative endeavor. Indeed, so assured was he of his preeminence, that possibly the only other more recognizably “Basquiat” signifier than his literal tag, was that of the three-pointed crown. Rene Ricard drew particular attention to the crown and its timbre for Basquiat, explaining that "the crown sits securely on the head of Jean-Michel's repertory so that it is of no importance where he got it bought it stole it; it's his. He won that crown." (Rene Ricard, “The Radiant Child,” Artforum, December 1981, online)

    Abandoning his more frenzied style, Untitled (Venus 2000 B.C.) reads more like Basquiat’s minimalist study of romantic symbolism which bare resemblance to Cy Twombly’s interest in the depiction of Greco-Roman mythology while the simplified, clean-lines read like a bas relief atop a Roman temple. Basquiat admired Twombly for his ability to draw freely, unrestrained, as an almost meditative practice. Basquiat’s iconography, which often incorporates ancient and non-western art motifs, can be traced back to his early visits with his mother to museums throughout the city, from the Brooklyn Museum to the Metropolitan Museum and the Museum of Modern Art. Directly related to these visits is that “Venus” form, the textual pediment adornment, even the blatantly false 2000 B.C. date scrawled along the right edge. As important as those museum visits with his mother was another gift she bestowed upon the young artist. Following her son’s car accident and as he lay convalescing in the hospital, his mother gave Basquiat a copy of Gray’s Anatomy, the cornerstone of medical school anatomy class. Coupled with his already nascent interest in the figure studies of Leonardo da Vinci, Basquiat’s fixation on the human body would form one of the most lasting and immediately recognizable motifs within his oeuvre. The literal “(ELBOW)” in the lower left and the peculiar hand dangling from an arm/elbow depiction so simplified it reads more as an extended clothes hanger than any sort of recognizable body part are direct referents to Basquiat’s own injuries and the lifelong interest he took in the human body.

    Untitled (Venus 2000 B.C.) is a testament to Basquiat’s prowess as a contemporary shaman and modern day mythmaker. Mining the art historical record from the ancients to da Vinci and through to Twombly and Dubuffet, Basquiat could have been no more than a glorified collagist. And yet, his inimitable power over the painted image imbued his creations with a wholly new energy. Paintings like the stunning Untitled (Venus 2000 B.C.) are infinitely more than the sum of their parts – they manifest Basquiat’s particular visual lexicon. Those symbols for Basquiat functioned as much as visual cues as they did intellectual stimulants. As a collective they served as a beautiful equation, intelligently created, unsolvable but irrepressible in their potency. In this way, Basquiat created “a calculated incoherence, calibrating the mystery of what such apparently meaning-laden pictures might ultimately mean.” (Mark Meyer, “Basquiat in History,”Basquiat, exh. cat., Brooklyn Museum of Art, 2005, p.51)

  • 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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Property from the Estate of Jean-Michel Basquiat


Untitled (Venus 2000 B.C.)

acrylic and oilstick on canvas mounted on tied wood supports
60 1/4 x 59 1/4 in. (153 x 150.5 cm.)
Executed circa 1982.

$2,000,000 - 3,000,000 

Sold for $2,590,000

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Kate Bryan
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New York
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20th Century & Contemporary Art Evening Sale

New York Auction 18 May 2017