Jean-Michel Basquiat - 20th c. and Contemporary Art Day Sale - Morning Session New York Tuesday, December 8, 2020 | Phillips
  • "It was amazing, this whole dance he [Basquiat] did with the pencil." —Fab 5 Freddy

    Remaining in the same private collection for 36 years, Untitled (Geese+), 1984, is an important work by Jean-Michel Basquiat that served as a source of inspiration for such masterpieces as the diptych MP, 1984-1985, Estate of Jean-Michel Basquiat, and the portrait MP, 1984. Exemplifying Basquiat’s extraordinary sense of composition, this drawing presents a striking ode to ancient Egypt through the lens of the artist’s distinct vernacular. The red-breasted goose of the famous “Meidum Geese” painting from the tomb of Nefermaat and Itet is here distilled into crisply drawn lines, expertly activating the space above a vignette featuring two figures, one of which is embellished with Basquiat’s trademark crown motif, in a scene of offering or harvest. 

    Untitled (Geese+) not only demonstrates Basquiat’s remarkable draftsmanship, it notably provides a fascinating point of departure to explore his pioneering use of Xerox copies as an integral aspect of his artistic practice–an unprecedented strategy of self-appropriation and reproduction that places Basquiat firmly within the annals of conceptual art, and positions him as a pioneer of the pre-digital age.
    "I get my facts from books, stuff on atomizers, the blues, ethyl alcohol, geese in Egyptian style." —Jean-Michel Basquiat Created at the apex off Basquiat’s career, Untitled (Geese+) speaks of the central role that drawing played in Basquiat’s practice. A voracious autodidact, Basquiat had taught himself to draw from early childhood and continued to pursue his near manic obsession with the act of drawing throughout adulthood. While Basquiat drew inspiration of a broad range of sources–including television cartoons, comic books, the anatomical textbook Gray’s Anatomy–the present work speaks to the artist’s particular fascination with ancient history and the art and artifacts he encountered in New York museums.

    The period in which Basquiat created Untitled (Geese+) was marked by the artist’s increasing interest in African spiritualism and history, sparked in part by the 1983 publication of Robert Farris Thompson’s new volume Flash of the Spirit: African & Afro-American Art & Philosophy. As Basquiat stated in conversation with Thompson, he considered his visual and verbal citations as “facts:” “I get my facts from books, stuff on atomizers, the blues, ethyl alcohol, geese in Egyptian style. I get my background from studying books. I put what I like from them in my paintings. I don’t take credit for my facts. The facts exist without me.”i

    Facsimile of the painting on the inner back side of the sarcophagus of Aashyt, ca. 2051–2030 B.C. Collection of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York. 
    Facsimile of the painting on the inner back side of the sarcophagus of Aashyt, ca. 2051–2030 B.C. The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York.

    In Untitled (Geese+), Basquiat references the “Meidum Geese”, the early Dynasty painting discovered in the tomb of Nefermaat and Itet the artist would have been familiar with through Charles K. Wilkinson’s famous facsimile at the Metropolitan Museum of Art–one of many copies held by the museum that were created during expeditions to Egypt. The vast collection certainly also served as a model for the constellations of figures in the lower half of Untitled (Geese+), into which Basquiat has introduced his own trademark symbol of the crown. Basquiat would often exploit the creative potential of free association while drawing to the sound of music or television in the background; here, the stuttering incantation of “Gg” inserts a sense of immediacy, connecting back to the “GEESE” that captions the upper drawing.

    Basquiat’s Xerox paintings

    The central motifs in Untitled (Geese+) feature in many of Basquiat’s paintings from the time, including the portrait of his friend Michael Patterson, MP, 1984, but perhaps most prominently in MP, 1984-1985, a towering diptych composed almost entirely in Xerox copies veiled in places with dynamic swathes of paint. Exuding an imposing presence, the diptych is evocative of a wall teeming with the vernacular of urban life such as advertisements and graffiti–in this case Basquiat’s very own repository of text and image. While integrating fragments from other drawings of the time, Basquiat notably cites Untitled (Geese+) in an ecstatic staccato of reproduction–the crowned male figure, featured five times, marches across the right canvas, with the female figure, goose and row of leaves are interspersed in fragments to create a rich tapestry. 


    Jean-Michel Basquiat, MP, 1984-1985, Estate of Jean-Michel Basquiat. Artwork © Estate of Jean-Michel Basquiat. Licensed by Artestar, New York
    Jean-Michel Basquiat, MP, 1984-1985. Estate of Jean-Michel Basquiat. Artwork © Estate of Jean-Michel Basquiat. Licensed by Artestar, New York

    At the same time as MP brilliantly actualizes the ode to ancient Egyptian tomb painting as put forth by Untitled (Geese+), it also points back to Basquiat’s own beginnings as visual artist and poet in the 1970s when he emblazoned the abandoned walls of Downtown Manhattan with his unique blend of enigmatic symbols, icons and aphorisms under his pseudonym of SAMO. This was also around the time that Basquiat first started employing the Xerox photocopier into his practice; in 1979 he and Jennifer Stein began creating photocopies of their small collages, mounting and selling them as art postcards on the streets. One of these postcards was notably the very work that Basquiat sold to Warhol in what has become a legendary anecdote of their first meeting that year.

    While Basquiat in the succeeding years turned his focus to painting on found materials, paper and canvas, he returned to the Xerox as in 1982 with his remarkable Untitled (One Eyed Man or Xerox Face). Marking the first time a sheet of Xerox collage acted as the compositional center point for a painting, this work represented the start of Basquiat’ increasing interest in collage–which would soon become a defining element of his practice, as evidenced in such important paintings as Grillo, 1984, Fondation Louis Vuitton, Paris, Wicker, 1984, The Broad Museum, Los Angeles, or King of the Zulus, 1985-1985, Musée d'Art Contemporain, Marseille. 
    "I’d been sort of living off this pile of drawing from last year, sticking them on paintings." —Jean-Michel Basquiat

    Cut, Copy & Paste

    The embrace of Xerox machine enabled Basquiat to more radically push the strategies of duplication and citation forward, which he had hitherto explored in the form of repeated words, phrases and motifs throughout his paintings and drawings. Radical, experimental and innovative, Basquiat turned to the Xerox photocopier as the means to reproduce his own motifs ad infinitum. The process of photocopying eventually became so integral to his practice that Basquiat acquired his own machine for his studio, which was not a small investment at the time. Duplicating drawings such as Untitled (Geese+), Basquiat would then assemble the cut and ripped photocopies on canvas or wood supports, integrating them into the composition visually, or overlaying them with paint, text and symbols to create multi-layered palimpsests.

    Basquiat’s Xerox works embody an unprecedented level of experimentation and dexterity; they equally draw upon the cut-up techniques of such Beat Generation writers as William S. Burroughs, as well as art historical precedents for collage ranging from the Dadaist to such specific models as Willem de Kooning’s Woman, circa 1950, Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, in which the artist collaged the mouth from a cigarette advertisement onto the face of his figure. Basquiat’s Xerox works also more obliquely further the strategies of reproduction encompassed in the silkscreened works of Robert Rauschenberg and Andy Warhol, powerfully conflating notions of high and low art. As Dieter Buchhart crucially observed, the deluge of image and text in these works seems to presage the copy-paste sampling techniques of the Internet generation and position the artist as a pioneer of the pre-digital age.  

    i Jean-Michel Basquiat, quoted in Robert Farris Thompson, “Activating Heaven: The Incantatory Art of Jean-Michel Basquiat,” in Jean-Michel Basquiat, exh. cat., Mary Boone-Michael Werner Gallery, New York, 1985, n.p 

    • Provenance

      Gifted by the artist to the present owner in 1984

    • Exhibited

      New York, Nahmad Contemporary, Jean-Michel Basquiat, Xerox, March 12 - May 31, 2019, p. 165 (illustrated, p. 164)

    • Literature

      "In Season", American Fine Art Magazine, November/December 2018, issue 42, p. 112 (illustrated, p. 114)

    • 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 (Geese+)

signed, dedicated and dated "To KIM Jean-Michel Basquiat 1984." on the reverse
oilstick and charcoal on paper
41 1/2 x 29 3/4 in. (105.4 x 75.7 cm)
Executed in 1984.

Full Cataloguing

$300,000 - 400,000 

Sold for $302,400

Contact Specialist

John McCord
Head of Day Sale, Morning Session
New York
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20th c. and Contemporary Art Day Sale - Morning Session

New York 8 December 2020