Jean-Michel Basquiat - Contemporary Art Part I New York Monday, November 8, 2010 | Phillips

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  • Provenance

    Mary Boone Gallery, New York; Acquired from the above by the present owner

  • Literature

    R. D. Marshall and J.L. Prat, Jean-Michel Basquiat, Paris, 1996, 2nd ed., vol. II, p. 136, no. 1 (illustrated); R. D. Marshall and J.L. Prat, Jean-Michel Basquiat, Paris, 2000, 3rd ed., vol. II, p. 220, no. 1 (illustrated)

  • Catalogue Essay

    The wild-child of the 1980s, Jean-Michel Basquiat’s life was a whirlwind of extremes.  Putting paint on canvas for the first time in 1981, by 1983 he was an artist of rock star status.  Until his untimely death from a heroin overdose in 1988, Basquiat’s output was prolific and his impact profound.  It can be said that as both an artist and an individual, Basquiat “captured the downtown pulse of his time, for good and ill, and defined some key cultural crossovers. The son of Haitian and Puerto Rican parents, he embodied the emerging doctrine of multiculturalism and jumbled up various traditions with devil-may-care energy…He did not have much formal training as a painter and did not pretend otherwise, perhaps sensing that without a long apprenticeship, pretenders to the high tradition become derivative artists. Instead, he developed a distinctive, rough style that has the aura of a self-taught, sui generis outsider who lives in the middle of nowhere. Except, of course, that this smart naïf lived in the heart of the New York art world” (M. Stevens, “American Graffiti,” New York Magazine, May 21, 2005). Painted just four years before his death, MP is both emblematic of his style and evocative of the symbolism that so enraptured him. 
    Basquiat's freshly urban and totally unique brand of intellectualized 'primitivism' was informed by a full spectrum of art historical and cultural sources: Jackson Pollock, graffiti art (both modern and ancient), Pablo Picasso, Jean Dubuffet, the religious and cultural influences of his family background as well as the gritty urban context in which he lived and worked. The present work can be seen as a synthesis of Basquiat's diverse art historical interests and his hyper-awareness of, and emersion in his own environment. The fierceness of this painting, as well as the focus on the isolated figure at odds within its own environment recalls the rude urbanism in Dubuffet's paintings before 1950 and the totemic hieroglyphic figures of Pollock's early paintings. Both artists' raw power and defiance of traditional aesthetic norms appealed to Basquiat. The sheer energy of confrontation evident in the present work also recalls Picasso's fleshy contests between man and woman; self and other; innocence and experience. MP demonstrates Basquiat's ability as a self-taught artist who used his vast visual and cultural knowledge to create a fresh and entirely unique iconography. It is a prime example of Basquiat’s artistic expression, one “that is aggressive and rapid, yet thoughtful and literate, and which displays an expressive and intuitive control of gesture, color, and composition that is combined with provocative images and relevant subjects that are rich in reference and allusion.” (R. D. Marshall, “Foreward and Forward: Jean-Michel Basquiat,” Basquiat, New  York, 1999, p. 24).
    MP, like Basquiat’s other works, reveals a confluence of his numerous interests and energies, the general categories of which include his own biography, black heroes, cartoons, anatomy, graffiti, signs and symbols as well as money, racism and death.  The words, in particular, describe the subjects most important to him.  For, “he continually selected and injected into his works words which held charged references and meanings – particularly about his deep-rooted concerns about the creation (and abuse) of power and wealth, and the control and valuation (and exploitation) of natural resources, animals, and produce” (Richard D. Marshall in Enrico Navarra et al, Jean Michel Basquiat, Paris, 2000, p. 37).  Spanning the right side of this work, next to the image of the black male figure, are Basquiat’s signature collaged Xeroxes carefully inscribed with a list of words and scribbled images.  Repeated over and over, as almost a mantra, is the word Carbon.  Carbon, the non metallic element of which diamonds are made can be understood as an autobiographical reference to Basquiat - himself having become wealthy and his works valuable.  Carbon is also found in graphite, a material used for both drawing and writing, further pointing to Basquiat as both artist and author.  This deliberate juxtaposition of these words against the black male figure reveals MP as a kind of self-portrait of the artist.  
    Basquiat further uses the word ‘regeneration’, the symbol for the Yen currency, drawings of Lucky Strike cigarettes and a houseplant in this painting.  With these references “Basquiat is scrutinizing man’s seizure and monopolization of the earth’s animal and mineral resources, and questioning why and how these resources, that are ideally owned by all the world’s inhabitants, have become objects of manipulation, power, and wealth at the expense of the well being of mankind” (Richard D. Marshall in Enrico Navarra et al, Jean Michel Basquiat, Paris, 2000, p. 38).  Also repeated are images of a sickle - an allusion to ancient African migration, manual labor and the sickle-cell anemia that afflicts contemporary blacks.   
    If one understands and interprets the figure in MP as a self-portrait, and takes into account the allusions to monetary value, exploitation and power, then the title MP itself opens up to new meaning.  In 1984, the same year this work was made, Mary Boone became Basquiat’s New York dealer despite his concerns about doing so.  The MP, or Market Price, of his work, like the artist himself, becomes in a sense controlled by the gallery and the art world machine.

  • 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 and Xerox collage on canvas.
85 7/8 x 68 in. (218.1 x 172.7 cm).
Signed, titled, and dated “’MP’ 1984 Basquiat” on the reverse.

$2,000,000 - 3,000,000 

Contemporary Art Part I

8 November 2010
New York