This 1982 painting by Jean-Michel Basquiat is on view for the first time on the West Coast. A grand example of Basquiat's expressive and charged style, the loan of this painting gives us the opportunity to consider the friendship between Basquiat, who was 21 years old when he painted it, and Andy Warhol, one of the pivotal figures of pop art.
Basquiat’s work centers on Black culture in America, past and present. Stylistically, his paintings have a gestural quality reminiscent of scrapbook entries and graffiti, often combining image and text. They are witness to the artist’s process, with revisions, redactions, and erasures remaining vital elements in each finished work. Basquiat expresses this sense of flux and change in this electric painting. It is an image in a constant state of becoming. The dramatically rendered skull is fiercely alive—talking, singing, or screaming. Asked about his work in a 1983 conversation with Henry Geldzahler for Interview Magazine (published by Andy Warhol), Basquiat noted that his subjects are “royalty, heroism and the street.”
With family ties to Haiti and Puerto Rico, Basquiat grew up in Brooklyn, New York, in the 1960s and ‘70s. His restless search for expression began with an early and sustained interest in drawing. As a teenager, he joined a drama group on the Upper West Side of Manhattan, and in 1979 he was a founding member of the noise music band that later became known as Gray. A few years earlier, Basquiat created an alter ego with the signature SAMO (an acronym for Same Old Shit), which he and his friend Al Diaz used in the slogans and aphorisms they spray painted on trains and buildings in Lower Manhattan. Focused on witty statements rather than graphic embellishment, the tags positioned the authors critically in relationship to mainstream art and culture and attracted a devoted following.
The Brooklyn artist’s meteoric rise as a new voice occurred between 1980 and 1982 and dovetailed with the underground club scene in Lower Manhattan. Between 1982 and 1983, Basquiat and Andy Warhol became more deeply acquainted and developed a close working relationship, including painting each other’s portraits and collaborating on work. The fleeting nature of celebrity was a common interest, although they articulated their views in radically different ways. In memory of their shared time, Basquiat’s Untitled is presented here opposite Andy Warhol’s Double Elvis.
Basquiat—Untitled and accompanying programs have been made possible by the collector Yusaku Maezawa. This painting is currently on a world tour and will eventually be housed in a museum that the owner is creating in his hometown of Chiba, Japan.