Jean-Michel Basquiat - 20th Century & Contemporary Art Evening Sale New York Wednesday, November 16, 2016 | Phillips

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  • Provenance

    Vrej Baghoomian, Inc., New York
    Private Collection, New York
    Phillips de Pury, New York, May 13, 2004, lot 22
    Private Collection, New York (acquired at the above sale)
    Acquired from the above by the present owner

  • Exhibited

    St. Louis, Washington University Gallery of Art, Art of the 80's: Modern and Postmodern, January 23 - April 5, 1998 (illustrated on the cover of the brochure)
    Mexico City, Museo del Palacio de Bellas Artes, Jean-Michel Basquiat, October 5 - December 19, 2004, p. 73
    Bali, Darga Gallery, Jean-Michel Basquiat, 2005, p. 41
    Valencià, Institut Valencià d'Art Modern, Fire Under Ashes, May 5 - August 28, 2005

  • Literature

    Richard D. Marshall and Jean-Louis Prat, Jean-Michel Basquiat: Appendix, Galerie Enrico Navarra, Paris, 2010, 3rd ed., no. 2, pp. 24-25, 42-43 (illustrated)

  • Catalogue Essay

    Painted in 1987, just a year prior to his untimely death, Jean-Michel Basquiat’s Untitled (Devil’s head) exhibits the artist’s distinct aesthetic vision and characteristic subject matter: the skull. In the present lot, Basquiat offers two mirrored skulls in black, white and blazing red, one echoing the other in asymmetric balance. In their rendering, these bare-teethed skulls, executed in the artist’s characteristic, active brushwork, interplay against a lustrous metallic background. Conceived at the end of his career, this work occupies a unique space as the millennium neared, provoking us to reflect on the changed nature that Basquiat’s work took towards the end of his practice. Indeed Untitled (Devil’s head) pulls from the same themes evident in the artist’s very last painting, created just a year later in 1988, Riding with Death. In 1987, the artist had just witnessed the death of his dear friend and contemporary Andy Warhol, and was just a year from his own. The darkness in his life that prevailed might explain the meditative backgrounds of both of these late works, and the motifs of death and the devil.

    Aesthetically, the present lot reflects the artist’s two key influences pulled from throughout his oeuvre. The skull harkens back to one of Basquiat’s first sources, a book on anatomy given to him by his mother in 1968 after surviving an almost-fatal car accident. While abstract, Basquiat’s skulls are rendered with a semblance of scientific accuracy in their structure and emphasis on the individual parts that make up the body, evident here in his rendering of the teeth and nasal cavities. Like Francis Bacon, there exists a psychological pulse in the stylized way that this anatomical influence was expressed, belonging to the unique intersection of abstraction and figuration. In Untitled (Devil’s head), Basquiat also harkens back to the art historical canon with which he was so fascinated, not only in the tribal motifs exhibited in the contours of the skulls’ heads and the arrow-like lines framing the composition, but also in the metallic surface of the background, which recalls Renaissance compositions and Byzantine mosaics.

    The amalgamation of influences Basquiat refers to are, in typical fashion, infused with the urbanization of 1980s New York City, however they appear to be distinctly different from the frenetic canvases of Basquiat’s early works. Here, Basquiat rejects background noise of text and music for sublime reflection. As such, the composition of open-mouthed devils reflects not only the artist’s inspirations, but also speaks to the autobiographical nature of his work, perhaps acting as a metaphor for the artist’s late life. As Phoebe Hoban explains, “In Basquiat's paintings, boys never become men, they become skeletons and skulls. Presence is expressed as absence--whether it's in the spectral bodies and disembodied skulls he paints or the words he crosses out…His work is the ultimate expression of a profound sense of "no there there," a deep hole in the soul.” (Pheobe Hoban, Basquiat: A Quick Killing in Art, London, 1998)

  • 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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Untitled (Devil's head)

initialed and dated "JMB '87" on the overlap
acrylic on canvas
48 x 40 in. (121.9 x 101.6 cm.)
Executed in 1987.

$3,000,000 - 5,000,000 

Sold for $3,610,000

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

20th Century & Contemporary Art Evening Sale

New York Auction 16 November 5 PM EST