Jean-Michel Basquiat - 20th Century & Contemporary Art Day Sale, Morning Session New York Thursday, June 24, 2021 | Phillips
  • Held in the extensive collection of Justice Alan and Diane Page for over 35 years, Untitled (Starvation) and Untitled (The Athlete) are milestones of the revolutionary approach that launched Jean-Michel Basquiat to international acclaim in 1981. The two exemplary works depict subjects that would become central to the vernacular of Basquiat’s all-too-brief output: an anthropomorphic god figure with the artist’s famous crown-of-thorns motif, and a monumental—yet fallible—athlete. Taken together the works express a uniquely subversive narrative, part of a mythology that interrogates the poetics and politics of identity, history, representation, and commodification.


    Basquiat’s unbridled genius shines in these pieces, executed when he was on the cusp of unprecedented critical and commercial success. In 1981 the artist was included in New York/New Wave, a highly-anticipated avant-garde group show at PS1 Contemporary Art Center, where his raw expressiveness caught the attention of gallerists Annina Nosei and Bruno Bischofberger, who would help catapult his work to greater recognition.


    Michelangelo, Libyan Sibyles, circa 1511. Sistine Chapel, Vatican.
    Michelangelo, Libyan Sibyl, circa 1511. Sistine Chapel, Vatican.

    The Face of a New World 


    Four years after executing Starvation and The Athlete, Basquiat emerged from New York’s underground art scene and exploded onto the cover of The New York Times Magazine. One of the most iconic images of the 1980s, the magazine's deceptively casual portrait depicted the artist confidently returning the viewer’s gaze as he reclined in his studio, barefoot in an Armani suit. As the first artist of color to be compared to the likes of Picasso and Francis Bacon, the Times feature marked a seismic shift in a culture rife with racism. Basquiat’s impact reverberated beyond the confines of the New York art scene, reaching people across the country and around the world—including Alan Page’s daughter Georgi, 1,000 miles away in Minneapolis. “I think what I responded to was his assertion of presence and power in a world that can often try to diminish it. And Basquiat did that sometimes in an abstract, minimal way, while still managing to make maximum impact,” she explained.


    The artist’s work made such a deep impression on the 15-year-old that her father and stepmother were convinced to seek out his work on their next trip to New York. Though the couple owned works by contemporary artists like Andy Warhol, Jim Dine and Helen Frankenthaler they were until then unfamiliar with Basquiat. And yet, just a few months later they went to the Annina Nosei Gallery in downtown Manhattan and, upon seeing Basquiat's work in person, they immediately arranged for the purchase of Starvation and The Athlete, two pieces created during the artist’s breakthrough year of 1981.

    "Sometimes you see things and it takes a while for them to grow on you…that was not the case with Starvation and The Athlete."
    —Justice Alan Page

    The Athlete


    Just as Basquiat eventually took his own place in the pantheon of cultural icons, the gladiator in 
    The Athlete shows a deep affinity with athletes that the artist celebrated in his oeuvre, including Muhammad Ali, Joe Louis, and Hank Aaron. The work is a vivid example of Basquiat’s understanding of the athlete as an epic figure fighting for the respect and recognition whose corollary is perpetual vulnerability: to racism, to objectification, and to deeply entrenched stereotypes of masculinity. While there is always an element of self-portraiture in Basquiat’s work, it is distilled in the figure of the athlete. “There is a clear correspondence between the commodification of black bodies via entertainment and sports,” one critic has indeed argued.i Herculean yet fragile, the figure in The Athlete tells of heroic ambitions laced with the awareness of loss.



    At the same time, the composition makes a subtle reference to Basquiat’s expansive art historical knowledge. The seated contrapposto of the figure evokes comparison with such figures as Michelangelo’s Libyan Sibyl from the Sistine Chapel. Indeed it was likely his engagement with the traditional art historical canon that led him to so freely integrate pop culture, autobiography, and the Black experience in his work. Recalling frequent visits to the Brooklyn Museum during his adolescence, the artist told curator Henry Geldzahler, “I realized that I didn’t see many paintings with Black people in them.” In confronting this omission, he responded by not only placing Black people in his work, but by giving them agency: “The Black person is the protagonist in most of my paintings.”  This explicit spotlighting of Black subjects presaged the work of some of the most significant artists working today, including Amy Sherald and Kerry James Marshall.


    The Diane and Alan Page Collection


    When Alan and Diane Page met in the early 1970s, Alan was already one of the most accomplished defensive players in the National Football League (NFL), but by the end of the decade, he had become a legendary athlete playing with the Minnesota Vikings. His career stats were nearly unmatched: he was the NFL’s Defensive Player of the Year in 1971 and 1973 and the first defensive player to be named the NFL’s Most Valuable Player; he helped take the Vikings to four Super Bowls; he was named All-Pro every year from 1970 to 1977; and he was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1988.


    Alan demonstrated the same determination, discipline, and focus off the field as well. At a time when players were at a great disadvantage in negotiating the terms of their employment and benefits, he became deeply involved in the National Football League Players Association as a player representative in the struggle for free agency. This experience fighting for civil rights was partly what inspired him to go to law school, and, after receiving his Juris Doctor in 1978, he surprised many by going to work for a Minneapolis law firm in his off-seasons, while still playing with the Chicago Bears. 


    The Page family.
    [left] The Page family; [right] Alan Page.

    "Who we are together is much greater than the sum of the two of us as individuals."
    —Alan Page
    Following Page's retirement from professional football, he served as an assistant attorney general, eventually suing for the right to run for the Minnesota Supreme Court. When he won that race in 1992, he became the state’s first African American associate justice, and continued to serve until his mandatory retirement in 2015. In the intervening years, he and Diane launched the Page Education Foundation and, since Diane’s passing in 2018, Alan and his family have remained passionately devoted to social causes. Page accepted the Medal of Freedom in 2018 and, in 2020, helped launch a campaign to amend the Minnesota constitution and make a quality public school education a basic right for all children.


    Diane shared her husband’s unwavering commitment to social justice and activism, serving as Executive Director of the Page Education Foundation while sustaining a career as a successful market researcher. She worked tirelessly to expand the Foundation’s mission of encouraging minority students in Minnesota to pursue post-secondary education. Moreover, she was the driving force behind the family’s unique collection of African American artifacts, painstakingly curated to teach the Page children—as well as the public at large—about the perils of racism. The collection both reflected and inspired the couple's social justice work, and today constitutes one of the most unique and comprehensive personal collections of African Americana in the United States. 

    i Jordana Moor Saggese, Reading Basquiat, Berkeley, 2014, p. 31.
    ii Jean-Michel Basquiat, quoted in Henry Geldzahler, “Art: From the Subways to Soho, Jean-Michel Basquiat,” Interview Magazine, January 1983. 

    • Provenance

      Annina Nosei Gallery, New York
      Acquired from the above by the present owner in 1985

    • 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.

      View More Works

Property from the Diane and Alan Page Collection


Untitled (The Athlete)

oilstick on paper
19 7/8 x 15 7/8 in. (50.5 x 40.3 cm)
Executed in 1981, this work is accompanied by a certificate of authenticity from the Authentication Committee of the Estate of Jean-Michel Basquiat.

Full Cataloguing

$200,000 - 300,000 

Contact Specialist

John McCord
Head of Day Sale, Morning Session
New York
+1 212 940 1261

20th Century & Contemporary Art Day Sale, Morning Session

New York Auction 24 June 2021