Jean-Michel Basquiat - 20th Century & Contemporary Art Day Sale, Afternoon Session New York Tuesday, November 13, 2018 | Phillips

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  • Provenance

    Galerie Mathias Fels, Paris
    Private Collection
    Christie's, New York, November 17, 2000, lot 526
    Acquired at the above sale by the present owner

  • Catalogue Essay

    “I don’t think about art when I’m working. I think about life.” – Jean-Michel Basquiat

    Executed in 1987, Untitled is an exceptional window into the mind of one of the most celebrated artists of the twentieth century. An all-encompassing visual melding of text and imagery, the present lot is a testament to Jean-Michel Basquiat’s tenacity as a creator during his far too short, yet wildly prolific career. Untitled was executed just a year before the artist’s untimely passing at the age of 27, during a time in which he was struggling with the loss of his dear friend and mentor, Andy Warhol. As with all of his best works, Untitled serves as a map of the artist’s brilliant and complicated mind. Here, Basquiat invites the viewer into his own universe – an encyclopedic display of symbols, signs and motifs that was the very foundation of his unique and powerful visual lexicon.

    Drawing held a very special place within the artist’s oeuvre, as he was attracted to the immediacy of the medium and its similarities to the unbridled nature of his origins as a graffiti artist. Rather than laboring over his works for extended periods of time, Basquiat is famous for saying, “I start a picture and I finish it.” Untitled was executed in this very manner – a candid recording of hieroglyphics and phrases – drawn in the artist’s typical, primitive style. The primary source for many of these symbols was Henry Dreyfuss’ Symbol Sourcebook: An Authoritative Guide to International Graphic Symbols published in 1972. Basquiat studied this textbook at length and integrated many of the motifs he saw directly into the narrative of his works. In Untitled, “PUMP, ROTARY AND CENTRIFUGAL” and “FATAL INJURY” seem to leap off the page. Intertwined with these phrases are the graphic symbols Dreyfus codified, such as the circle with a diagonal line protruding from the top corner with a “G” at the end. Additional recognizable motifs like the Batman logo, pig’s eye, and sword punctuate the composition, interspersed with a few bright green swaths of watercolor, and scattered blue and red scribbles that feel almost automatic or subliminal.

    These symbols of mortality, anatomy and alchemy, along with the juxtaposition of words like “SPIRIT” and “CRUCIBLE,” are palpable indications of Basquiat’s mental state during a time when he was struggling with addiction and intense personal loss. Perhaps a foreshadowing of his untimely death the following year, Untitled can be seen as a visual manifestation of the artist wrestling with ideas about both the physical and spiritual world, questioning what might lie beyond. Creating and destroying, writing and crossing out, Basquiat challenges the viewer to decode the messages within this map of disparate symbols. The seemingly random distribution of words and signs mirror Basquiat’s inner train of thought, or stream of consciousness, which, combined with the raw style of drawing, imbues the composition with a sense of intimacy and personal significance. A late work executed during a time in which the artist was receiving unparalleled acclaim, Untitled is a powerful example of the visual immediacy and candid authenticity that made Basquiat one of the most important artists of his generation.

  • 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 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. 

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signed and dated "Jean-Michel Basquiat '87" on the reverse
crayon and watercolor on paper
30 x 22 1/2 in. (76.2 x 57.2 cm.)
Executed in 1987, this work is accompanied by a certificate of authenticity issued by the Authentication Committee of the Estate of Jean-Michel Basquiat.

$500,000 - 700,000 

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20th Century & Contemporary Art Day Sale, Afternoon Session

New York Auction 14 November 2018