Jean-Michel Basquiat - Contemporary Art Evening Sale New York Thursday, November 15, 2012 | Phillips

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  • Video

    JEAN-MICHEL BASQUIAT Humidity, 1982

    Phillips former Chairman, Simon de Pury, presents Jean-Michel Basquiat's 'Humidity', 1982. It has been suggested that the central figure in Humidity, 1982, illustrates Basquiat's friend and most influential mentor -- Andy Warhol. It has also been suggested that the dynamic and joyful figure to the right is actually the portrait of Swiss dealer Bruno Bischofberger. As their gallerist, Bischofberger had championed both Warhol and Basquiat's careers and nurtured the artistic collaborations between the two. While Warhol and Basquiat's collaborations would come after the creation of Humidity, 1982, it becomes a distinctive homage to two men who had greatly influenced the young Basquiat.

  • Provenance

    Annina Nosei Gallery, New York
    Marlborough Gallery, New York
    Elaine and Werner Dannheisser, New York
    Tony Shafrazi Gallery, New York
    Private Collection

  • Exhibited

    New York, Marlborough Gallery, The Pressure To Paint, Curated by Diego Cortez, June 4 - July 9, 1982
    Austin, Archer M. Huntington Art Gallery, New American Painting: A Tribute to James and Mari Michener, January 12–March 5, 1984
    New York, Tony Shafrazi Gallery, Jean-Michel Basquiat, April 25 – May 30, 1998
    New York, Tony Shafrazi Gallery, Four Friends: Jean-Michel Basquiat, Keith Haring, Donald Baechler, Kenny Scharf, October 25, 2007 – February 29, 2008

  • Literature

    E. McCready, J.A. Michener, M. Michener, New American Painting: A Tribute to James and Mari Michener, Archer M. Huntington Art Gallery, College of Fine Arts, The University of Texas at Austin, 1984
    R.D. Marshall and J.L. Prat, Jean-Michel Basquiat, Paris, Galerie Enrico Navarra, 1996, vol. ii, p. 86, no. 1 (illustrated)
    T. Shafrazi, J. Deitch, R. D. Marshall, Jean-Michel Basquiat, New York, Tony Shafrazi Gallery, 1999, p. 137 (illustrated)

  • Catalogue Essay

    During his early years in the public spotlight—from 1980 to 1982—Jean- Michel Basquiat’s progression as an artist was nuclear. His explorations into the subconscious imagery of the human psyche along with his integration of myriad cultural and anatomical tropes makes him one of the most recognized artists of the contemporary era. Throughout these years, we bear witness to a series of crowned figures living many lives: luminous, thorny, even cubic, and polygonal. Humidity, 1982, comes at the height of Basquiat’s unprecedented artistic revelations of the human condition. The painting yields limitless treasures of Basquiat’s generous spirit, and his sharp observations.

    As a young graffiti artist in the late 1970s, Basquiat shared a partnership with his friend Al Diaz, establishing the phenomenon known as “SAMO”, named for their trademark tags on inner city buildings. Short for “same old shit”, SAMO as a form of satire. Many of their provocative anti-establishment messages addressed the sensitive issues of race, identity, and commercialism. Binding their biting ideas in eloquent poetry, SAMO managed to gain relative fame from their immense pictorial constructions, and Basquiat was apt to insert figures of his own making into their works, including early studies in bare, skeletal portrayals of the human body. Armed with a unique transition of expression, Basquiat soon disbanded SAMO in order to pursue his own projects.

    While Basquiat has drawn from a multitude of art-historical sources, Humidity, 1982 makes certain allusions inevitable. Scholars are apt to describe the primitivism of post-Impressionists Paul Gaugin and Henri Rousseau as Basquiat’s historical precedents, their portrayals of “primitive” figures functioning as metaphors for essential states of the human psyche. Pablo Picasso furthered this theme, yet incorporated his signature cubist form, bringing a revolutionary stylistic element to the mask of primitivism. These early Twentieth Century painters were observant rather participatory; their masks were waystations for aesthetic experimentation. Raised in Brooklyn in a multicultural family, he mastered Spanish, French, and English during his childhood, carrying the imprint of a diverse ethnic background into his blossoming career.
    Yet the ecclesiastical aspects of the present lot, including the soon-to-be-discussed crown of thorns and halo figures, invite associations with an even older phase of art history, where the sole portraits were those of religious figures, blessed by the hand of God.

    While he introduced a skull motif quite early in his career, it soon gave way to myriad other anatomical symbols: sometimes body parts appear half strewn with flesh, implying the translucence of the skin. In other pictures only the outline of the bone is visible, conjuring Basquiat’s Haitian heritage, only part of his complex Haitian/Puerto Rican cultural inheritance. In one respect, these visceral representations of dismembered body parts seem crude and disturbing, however, their presence signifies Basquiat as the inheritor of a long line of internal explorers, stretching back to Leonardo da Vinci and his early studies of human anatomy and biology. Basquiat’s own figures lack the verisimilitude of Da Vinci’s or any modern textbook, yet they radiate with sensation, where the painter is the doctor, forming and reforming the human form as he deems necessary. The emotional and intellectual weight of his paintings reveals fundamental truths shrouded in thought. During his artistic ascent, Basquiat turned from an acute awareness of his external environment to a more self-reflective exploration.

    This intense scrutiny is clearly at work in Humidity, 1982. While the present lot is exceptional within Basquiat’s canon for its balance of color, “one exceptional feature of Basquiat’s use of color is the baffling fact that he had no signature palette to speak of; nor, for that matter, was he prone to repeating particular combinations, so curious he was to try new relationships.” (M. Mayer, “Basquiat in History”, Basquiat, Edited by M. Mayer, New York, 2005, p. 47) Indeed, though the chromatic battle in Humidity, 1982, seems to be clash of black, red, and yellow hues, it shares more than a passing resemblance to Picasso’s, Le Sauvetage, 1932. Picasso shares much of his chromatic schemes with the present lot as well as vivid evocations of a charged scene. While Picasso shows the rescue of a swimmer in trouble at a summer beach, Basquiat present a more revelatory rescue of the soul.

    But beyond this comparison, Humidity, 1982 displays a remarkable beauty and unique distinctiveness in Basquiat’s oeuvre. Two figures share a particular moment of enlightenment within the ritual space of the eight foot tall painting, each one alight in its own holiness. The orange-faced figure on the right beams with spirited participation, the movement of his body kinetic. His crimson red frame is compounded with bright white,giving him a lightness of body. One arm is outstretched toward the other figure, suggesting his overwhelmingly enthusiastic participation in the mystery ritual of Basquiat’s invention. Finally, as his face bears pinpricks of stubble, it seems he has finally been rescued from whatever struggles have ensued. Relief has come to him at least. Above him floats a blue-bordered crown typical of the saints of Christianity. The figure has suffered, but is now redeemed. This figure, however, is clearly playing second fiddle to the dominating character at center. Arms of black and red stretched to the sky, the figure is clearly reaching in a moment of rapture, without question, his holiness is superior to that of his companion. As we move upward in Basquiat’s painting, though compact and seemingly understated at his feet, the central figure expands its features. Basquiat’s trademark skeletal tracing overlays the figure in stark white, hinting at the elevation of every fiber of his being. Bordered by fiery orange and yellow to his left, his frame is protected from the flame by his spiritual ascension. His face is a pastiche of forms: a salmon skin tone features blue eyes with blazing yellow frames, alight with the intensity of religious rapture. Curiously, he sports a round nose, as if Basquiat is offering redemption to those who bring humor and elation. Finally, atop his head, his shock of black hair glows with a white glint of electricity, highlighting his heavenly ecstasy.

    It has been suggested that the central figure in Humidity, 1982, illustrates Basquiat’s friend and most influential mentor – Andy Warhol. The fright-wig, highlighted with bold white oilstick, is perhaps the most telling sign as it mirrors the famed friseur of the legendary teacher to Basquiat. It has also been suggested that the dynamic and joyful figure to the right is actually the portrait of Swiss dealer Bruno Bischofberger. As their gallerist, Bischofberger had championed both Warhol and Basquiat’s careers and nurtured the artistic collaborations between the two. While Warhol and Basquiat’s collaborations would come after the creation of the present lot, Humidity, 1982, becomes a distinctive homage to Warhol and Bischofberger, two men who had greatly influenced the young Basquiat. The halos, which grace both protagonists, are a trait witnessed in many of Basquiat’s portraits, depicting both himself and others, and infuse the painting with the religious iconicity that has defined Basquiat’s celebrated oeuvre. The formal composition of the present lot takes on the quality of an illumination, with the figure occupying the central ground, it mirrors that of a religious depiction of a patron saint; here, the patron saint to the young artist was Andy Warhol. Here, both men extend their arms toward the celestial sphere while Warhol appears to conduct the vibrant aura of colors that dance around the canvas. Through the figuration of the present lot, we are granted a framed portrait of three of the most influential players in the 1980s and even thereafter: Warhol depicted in the center, Bishofberger to the right, and Basquiat himself in the vigorous and bountiful brushstrokes throughout the expansive surface.

    Between the figure’s hands, he suspends a form of infinite interpretation. While it would be easy to classify this enormous halo as just another one of the signifiers of holiness, its size, color, and detail refutes any such claim. The central figure’s halo glows red, one of the main hues of the figure’s body. Here, we can extrapolate that the sign of holiness is fashioned from the flesh of the being itself. Finally, we see this connection most explicitly in the thorns with which Basquiat adorns his crown—spikes shooting both into and outside the form of the halo. Though a redeemer, Basquiat’s holy man does not shed the tears of a martyr or burden himself with the weight of the thorned crown on his scalp. Instead, the thorned halo floats between his outstretched arms, and he praises the crown rather than bearing it. In this way, we see Basquiat’s two figures not as a leader and a follower, but both as beautified.

    The transparent flesh of the figure at center in the light of a sort of possession, the figure’s full anatomy charged with its spiritual revelation. The large diluted eyes and intense stares belie a rapturous stupor. The intensity of the scene is reminiscent of characters on a vision quest, fueled by the possible ingestion of mind altering substances. Skeletal exposures of his figures is a crucial component to Basquiat’s exploration of the fundamental psychological reworkings of his subjects. Ripping them
    open was a way of understanding them: “he seems to have been driven to pull things apart, examine their inner workings, consider the harmony or discord of their parts, and to reassemble them in some semblance, however elaborate the artifice of reordering, of wholeness.”(J. Hoffeld, “Basquiat and the Inner Self”, Jean-Michel Basquiat, Edited by J. Baal-Teshuva, Bonn, 2001, p. 28). Basquiat’s uncompromising compulsion to disassemble and reform is akin to the intensity Willem de Kooning brought to his famed Women series.

    It would be undiscerning not to address the nature of Basquiat’s title. Humidity, 1982, itself lends a particular tone of heat and warmth. Beyond the two main figures on the canvas, Basquiat paints a swirling world surrounding the spiritual activity at its center. Framing his universe beautifully at the sides of the picture, Basquiat’s enormous curved bands of dark gray and burnt orange flank the scene at left and right, respectively. Their bent structure likens them to the overhanging branches of a sacred
    tree, enclosing the holiness of the act taking place between them. Blocks of grey dotted with red and black sprinkle the space in between the branches and the figures with an indeterminate atmosphere, amplifying the mysterious air of magic about the setting. Within the thorned halo, Basquiat has painted a staggering amount of grey circles; some featured a central dot, suggesting a million pairs of watching eyes. Finally, a gentle blue sky takes precedence behind the two figures, a bright day in nature, glowing with the magic of man’s reverence for the divine.

  • 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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acrylic, oilstick, and Xerox collage on canvas
96 x 72 in. (243.8 x 182.9 cm)
Signed, titled, inscribed, and dated “’HUMIDITY’ Jean-Michel Basquiat ‘Do Not Revenge’ 1982” on the reverse.

$12,000,000 - 18,000,000 

Sold for $10,162,500

Contemporary Art Evening Sale

15 November 2012
New York