Andy Warhol and Jean-Michel Basquiat
- Andy Warhol and Jean-Michel Basquiat
- Sweet Pungent
- acrylic, oilstick and silkscreen ink on canvas
- 244.5 by 206.1 cm. 96 1/4 by 81 1/8 in.
- Executed in 1984-85.
Acquired from the above by the present owner in 2008
Madrid, Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofía, Warhol, Basquiat, Clemente - Obras en Colaboración, February - April 2002, p. 82, illustrated in colour
London, Tate Modern; Hamburg, Hamburger Kunsthalle; and Ottawa, The National Gallery of Canada, Pop Life: Art in a Material World, October 2009 - September 2010, p. 121, illustrated in colour (London); and p. 141, illustrated in colour (Hamburg)
Miami, Perez Art Museum, Jean-Michel Basquiat: The Unknown Notebooks, August - October 2016
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Emerging as a revolutionary figure in the 1960s, Warhol had been at the heart of the art establishment for over twenty years by the time he met Basquiat. However, as noted by art historian Robert Pincus Witten, it seemed that “In the 70s, Warholism had superseded Warhol” as he received critical admonishment for a decade dominated by the portrait commissions (Robert Pincus-Witten, ‘Entries: Big History, Little History’, Arts Magazine, No. 54, April 1980, p. 184). Extremely concerned about his public reception, at the dawn of the 1980s, the artist was desperate to inaugurate “the Return of Andy Warhol” (Ibid.). Schooled by the graffiti of the streets rather than the academy, Basquiat and his fresh perspective offered the essential injection of life that Warhol was looking for to revive his career. For Basquiat, the well-connected Warhol plugged him into a network that helped cement his critical ascendancy. As fellow Pop artist Ronnie Cutrone recounted, "Jean-Michel thought he needed Andy's fame, and Andy thought he needed Jean-Michel's new blood. Jean-Michel gave Andy a rebellious image again" (Ronnie Cutrone cited in: Victor Bockris, Warhol: The Biography, Cambridge 2003, pp. 461-62). The late 1980s would thus become some of the most productive years of Warhol’s career, resulting in some of his greatest works such as the legendary series of Fright Wig self-portraits. As explained by Keith Haring, “Jean brought back a much-needed touch of mischief that had been disappearing from the Factory agenda. But, he also brought an atmosphere of obsessive production that left its mark long after the collaborations had stopped" (Keith Haring, ‘Painting the Third Mind’, 1988, in: Exh. Cat., Milwaukee, Milwaukee Art Museum, Andy Warhol: The Last Decade, 2009, p. 205).
Sweet Pungent is a prime example of their symbiotic relationship. To create the present work, Warhol laid down the background and added his handmade graphic imagery, in this instance the General Electric logo. Basquiat recalled, "He would put something very concrete or recognisable, like a newspaper headline or a product logo, and then I would try and deface it, and then I would try and get him to work some more on it" (Jean-Michel Basquiat cited in: Exh. Cat., Basel, Fondation Beyeler, Basquiat, 2010, p. 47). In Sweet Pungent Basquiat responded and reacted, he modified by filling in parts of the canvas with childlike scrawls, he painted blocks of colour while the final addition of a central figure was executed in his signature style. With fists raised and a skull-like face, the character in the left hand corner conjures the quintessential figure in Basquiat’s work. Depicted with both of his hands thrust jubilantly in the air, this gesture is both evocative of the stance of a victorious boxer and also a doubling of the gloved fist of the Black Power Salute. Continuing to riff on Middle American mores and culture, Warhol illustrates the recognisable General Electic brand logo, a symbol of the American economy that Warhol repeats in some of his most celebrated collaborations with Basquiat. Mimicking the slick smooth lines of his infamous silkscreens, the GE logo is meticulously hand painted over Basquiat’s diagrammatic line drawings. It had been twenty years or thereabouts since Warhol had painted by hand, choosing for these collaborations to compete with the young pretender and eschew the indolent comfort of the silkscreen. Thereafter, a jousting unfolds, played out mark by mark on the surface. As Keith Haring wrote in his insightful essay of 1988, ‘Painting The Third Mind’: “For an artist, the most important and delicate relationship he can have with another artist is one in which he is constantly challenged and intimidated. This is probably the only productive quality of jealousy. The greatest pleasure is to be provoked to the point of inspiration... Painting with Jean-Michel was not easy. You had to forget any preconceived ideas of ownership and be prepared to have anything you’d done completely painted over within seconds... Andy loved the energy with which Jean would totally eradicate one image and enhance another... Layers and layers of images and ideas would build toward a concise climax” (Keith Haring, op. cit., pp. 203-04). Representing the climactic moment of this extraordinary creative relationship, the quality of Sweet Pungent mirrors the quality and depth of friendship between these two iconic contemporary masters. The mechanics of a mutually beneficial creative rapport are laid bare as stylistic differences blend in harmonious synthesis, giving birth to an entirely new aesthetic language.