Jean-Michel Basquiat - Contemporary Art Evening Sale London Friday, October 16, 2009 | Phillips

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  • Provenance

    Larry Gagosian Gallery, Los Angeles; The Stephane Janssen Collection, Belgium; Private collection, New York

  • Exhibited

    Los Angeles, Larry Gagosian Gallery, Jean-Michel Basquiat: New Paintings, 8 March – 2 April, 1983; Kunzelsau, Museum Wurth, Jean-Michel Basquiat, 6 October, 2001 – 2 January, 2002

  • Literature

    E. Navarra, Lean-Michel Basquiat, Paris, 1996, vol. I, p. 145 (illustrated), vol. II, no.4, p. 106 (illustrated), p. 236 (installation view); E. Navarra, Jean-Michel Basquiat, Paris, 2000, p. 169 (illustrated)

  • Catalogue Essay

    Jean-Michel Basquiat, the artist and his acclaimed oeuvre, requires no introduction. His story is well known to all, the artist-rebel hailing from a poor, immigrant background who, after living on the streets of New York City, meteorically rose to the top of the art world only to fall even faster and harder, tragically consumed by a debilitating drug habit and a low sense of self esteem. Like many of history’s artistic prodigies, the tormented Vincent van Gogh comes most immediately to mind, Basquiat departed this world never having really belonged but not without leaving behind a consequential, brilliant oeuvre. In just eight brief years, Basquiat displayed the most exceptional ability to execute poignant paintings loaded with attitude and turmoil and presenting infinite layers of a consciousness grappling with the transcendental, existential issue that has confronted humanity since the dawn of time- the meaning of life and death.
     
    In the present lot, Year of the Boar, a sparse but powerfully expressionistic work from one of his most important years, 1983, Jean-Michel Basquiat tackles head on the loaded art historical tradition of the triptych in painting. Basquiat chosen format and imagery, a three panel work with a vigorously depicted horned, masked figure on the central panel, is immediately reminiscent of Renaissance crucifixion triptychs. Basquiat’s enraged, screaming protagonist is Christ on the cross with the two other criminals crucified with Jesus in Golgatha simply hinted at by darkness, monochromatic black canvases on either side. At the base of the triptych, instead of the biblical INRI, a latin acronymyn inscribed on the cross with which Christ was crucified, Basquiat has adorned in a graffiti like manner each canvas with a word from the phrase ‘Chinese New Year’ followed by a copyright symbol. Loosely written text and corporate iconography, two of the cornerstones of Basquiat’ s oeuvre, reference not only his admiration of the avant-garde painter Cy Twombly but also his roots in New York City’s underground art scene where he artistically and physically undermined the establishment.
     
    What is most striking in the Year of the Boar is the beautifully rendered, animalistic figure of the triptych’s central panel. Painted in the same raw energy that inhabited Francis Bacon paintings, Basquiat’s anthropomorphic creature displays an aggression evident in its primal scream. In fact, Year of the Boar is reminiscent of Bacon’s first mature work, the biblical triptych Three Studies for Figures at the Base of a Crucifixion, a masterpiece of 20th century art, in which three writhing creatures expressionistically vent all their anger and frustration. Basquiat’s fascination with Primitive art and his appropriation of the masters that came before him is well documented; from African ritual masks to Picasso and Dubuffet, his oeuvre not only manages to succinctly synthesize the history of art but most importantly offer a highly personal, candid glimpse into the soul of a troubled artists. Like Bacon, Basquiat struggled with his identity and sense of belonging so perhaps the Christ-like central figure can be read as a self-portrait – a cry for help in which Basquiat the martyr with his bloodshot eyes, open, screaming mouth, and sharpened teeth attempts to release his demons.
     
    In early 1983 Basquiat was living in Los Angeles with the young, up and coming Pop star Madonna and frantically preparing a body of work for his second solo show with Larry Gagosian. In the evenings, the three of them often frequented the restaurants of the city’s prominent Chinatown. It is on the way to one of those meals that Basquiat, inspired by the vibrant, colourful celebrations of the Chinese New Year, the year of the boar in 1983, conceived the present work. Himself the son of immigrants, a mix of Puerto Rican and Haitian, Basquiat must have felt a connection with a people proclaiming their identity by performing a national ritual in a foreign country. The question of identity, a recurring theme throughout his oeuvre, was always important to Basquiat who famously struggled to cope with his status as an African-American in a 80s art world dominated by Caucasian artists and rampant with institutionalized racism.
     
    1983 would turn out to be a milestone year for Jean-Michel Basquiat who was at the height of his artistic maturity with Year of the Boar included in the notorious Larry Gagosian show. The exhibition would propel the then barely twenty-two year old to art world superstardom and the rest, as they say, is history. It is amazing to realize that at such a young age, the completely self-taught artist had acquired such a natural technical ability, a superlative draughtsmanship and a muscular yet fluid painting style. Energetic, expressive, graphic, Year of the Boar is a painting in which Basquiat achieves a thematic and artistic clarity unrivalled throughout his oeuvre.  

  • 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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12

Year of the Boar

1983
Triptych: acrylic on canvas mounted on wood supports.
Overall: 244 x 190 cm. (96 x 74 3/4 in).
Signed and titled 'YEAR OF THE BOAR' Jean-Michel B' on the reverse of the central panel.

Estimate
£900,000 - 1,200,000 

Sold for £1,105,250

Contemporary Art Evening Sale

17 Oct 2009
London