Mega Retrospective of Basquiat at Louis Vuitton Foundation
One of the most significant painters of the 20th Century, Jean Michel Basquiat , will be the star of a blockbuster show at the Louis Vuitton Foundation, having been 3 years in the making. The exhibition spans the artists’ entire career, which was relatively short from 1980 – 1988, with a focus on 120 artworks loaned from numerous collections worldwide.
The rebellious Basquiat started out on the streets of New York in the 70’s, tagging the city under the name SAMO (SAMe Old Shit), alongside his friend Al Diaz. He rose rapidly from street artist to sought-after painter at the height of New York being the fastest growing art scene in the 1970’s and 80’s. Throughout his life, he created around 1000 paintings, 2000 drawings, and 150 works alongside Andy Warhol.
Behind the Drawing Board: Highlights of the Exhibition
Bernard Arnault, chairman and CEO of LVMH (Louis Vuitton Moet Hennessy) and mastermind behind the Louis Vuitton Foundation which opened in 2014, has been plotting this blockbuster exhibition since it’s opening. He also happens to be an avid collector of Basquiat, having in his possession over a dozen of his artworks, some of which are presented at the museum (although it is unspecified as to which ones). Arnault started purchasing Basquiat in the 70’s when he lived in New York and they were only selling for around US$5000, his very first purchase was a work that was done on wood which still hangs in his home.
The show in Paris highlights his enduring appeal and includes artworks that have never landed on European soil, several collaborations between Basquiat and Warhol, as well as the Heads from 1981-82 that will be gathered together in the same room for the very first time at the Foundation (representing the artist at the peak of his artistic power). It is spread over nearly 2500m2 and is organized chronologically, but also by groups of works which define themes and invite comparisons. For Dieter Buchhart, curator of the show, “The exhibition follows his work, from the first drawings and monumental works to the later prints, collages, and assemblages, shedding light on his inimitable touch, use of words, phrases and enumerations, and his recourse to concrete hip hop poetry. To the image of the African American man threatened by racism, exclusion, oppression and capitalism, he opposed warriors and heroes.
The Rise and Rise of Basquiat
Consistent hype surrounding the artist that has been gradually rising over the past couple of decades was cemented with a monumental moment last year when his artwork Untitled (1982) was sold at Sotheby’s to billionaire Japanese collector Yusaku Maezawa for US$110.5 million, representing the height of his market strength. The painting contains his signature crowned heads against a vibrant blue background and holds the title as a record price for an American artist at auction (previously held by Andy Warhol at US$105 million). This particular sale smashed his previous auction record of US$57.3 million for Devils Head, also purchased by Maezawa, in May 2016. Untitled (1982) had not appeared on the market since 1984 when it was sold to Jerry and Emily Spiegel for US$19,000. Sotheby’s is also taking advantage of the hype and announced days before the opening that a private European collector has consigned 4 artworks that will go under the hammer at their contemporary evening sale in November.
Basquiat’s work refers to the eruption of Modernity, and he had an instinctive sense for the world that we are currently living in. His artworks are filled with references to his personal heritage, and he was influenced by artists past and present as well as New York’s downtown scene. The fact that Basquiat died 30 years ago and continues to have such a tremendous amount of impact on a generation that wasn’t even alive then, is quite remarkable.