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PROPERTY FROM AN IMPORTANT PRIVATE EUROPEAN COLLECTION

Jean-Michel Basquiat
REMOTE COMMANDER
Estimate
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Lots with this symbol indicate that a party has provided Sotheby’s with an irrevocable bid on the lot that will be executed during the sale at a value that ensures that the lot will sell. The irrevocable bidder, who may bid in excess of the irrevocable bid, will be compensated based on the final hammer price in the event he or she is not the successful bidder or may receive a fixed fee in the event he or she is the successful bidder. If the irrevocable bidder is the successful bidder, the fixed fee (if applicable) for providing the irrevocable bid may be netted against the irrevocable bidder’s obligation to pay the full purchase price for the lot and the purchase price reported for the lot shall be net of such fixed fee. If the irrevocable bid is not secured until after the printing of the auction catalogue, a pre-lot announcement will be made indicating that there is an irrevocable bid on the lot. If the irrevocable bidder is advising anyone with respect to the lot, Sotheby’s requires the irrevocable bidder to disclose his or her financial interest in the lot. If an agent is advising you or bidding on your behalf with respect to a lot identified as being subject to an irrevocable bid, you should request that the agent disclose whether or not he or she has a financial interest in the lot.
UK: Greenford Park
Lots marked W will be sent to Greenford Park Fine Art Storage Facility immediately after the auction.
Guaranteed Property
Guaranteed Property. The seller of lots with this symbol has been guaranteed a minimum price from one auction or a series of auctions. If every lot in a catalogue is guaranteed, the Conditions of Sale will so state and this symbol will not be used for each lot.
2,600,0003,200,000
LOT SOLD. 2,971,250 GBP
JUMP TO LOT
26

PROPERTY FROM AN IMPORTANT PRIVATE EUROPEAN COLLECTION

Jean-Michel Basquiat
REMOTE COMMANDER
Estimate
Irrevocable Bids
Lots with this symbol indicate that a party has provided Sotheby’s with an irrevocable bid on the lot that will be executed during the sale at a value that ensures that the lot will sell. The irrevocable bidder, who may bid in excess of the irrevocable bid, will be compensated based on the final hammer price in the event he or she is not the successful bidder or may receive a fixed fee in the event he or she is the successful bidder. If the irrevocable bidder is the successful bidder, the fixed fee (if applicable) for providing the irrevocable bid may be netted against the irrevocable bidder’s obligation to pay the full purchase price for the lot and the purchase price reported for the lot shall be net of such fixed fee. If the irrevocable bid is not secured until after the printing of the auction catalogue, a pre-lot announcement will be made indicating that there is an irrevocable bid on the lot. If the irrevocable bidder is advising anyone with respect to the lot, Sotheby’s requires the irrevocable bidder to disclose his or her financial interest in the lot. If an agent is advising you or bidding on your behalf with respect to a lot identified as being subject to an irrevocable bid, you should request that the agent disclose whether or not he or she has a financial interest in the lot.
UK: Greenford Park
Lots marked W will be sent to Greenford Park Fine Art Storage Facility immediately after the auction.
Guaranteed Property
Guaranteed Property. The seller of lots with this symbol has been guaranteed a minimum price from one auction or a series of auctions. If every lot in a catalogue is guaranteed, the Conditions of Sale will so state and this symbol will not be used for each lot.
2,600,0003,200,000
LOT SOLD. 2,971,250 GBP
JUMP TO LOT

Details & Cataloguing

Contemporary Art Evening Auction

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London

Jean-Michel Basquiat
1960 - 1988
REMOTE COMMANDER
signed and dated 1984 on the reverse
acrylic and Xerox collage on canvas
167.5 by 152.5 cm. 66 by 60 in.
Read Condition Report Read Condition Report

Provenance

Galerie Beaubourg, Paris

Private Collection, United States

Sotheby's, New York, 27 February 1990, Lot 305 (consigned by the above)

Acquired from the above by the present owner

Literature

Richard D. Marshall and Jean-Louis Prat, Eds., Jean-Michel Basquiat, Paris 1996, Vol. I, p. 134, no. 7, illustrated in colour

Richard D. Marshall and Jean-Louis Prat, Eds., Jean-Michel Basquiat, 3rd edition, Vol. II, Paris 2000, p. 218, no. 7, illustrated in colour

Catalogue Note

In 1981 Jean Michel Basquiat was anointed the ‘Radiant Child’ by René Ricard; in 1982 he made the transition from SAMO© street poet to art-world ingenuous; in 1983 he became the youngest artist ever to exhibit at the Whitney Biennial; and by 1984, at the age of only 23, he had become the most significant and famous black artist in the Western canon of art history. Hailing from this moment of pre-eminence, Remote Commander is replete with the ground-breaking marriage of pictorial syncopation and verbal alacrity that secured almost immediate critical acclaim for Basquiat during the early 1980s.

In this painting the workings of an extraordinarily creative mind are on full view. Stream of consciousness cartoon doodles and Pop culture references merge with anatomical sketches and quotidian transcriptions snatched from Basquiat’s everyday life. A list of ingredients from a bar of chocolate sits beside an anatomical sketch of a stomach, near which the word ‘MALNUITRITIOUS’ can be found lurking underneath diaphanous layers of strident yellow paint. Alongside these, Basquiat has listed the functions of a television remote control complete with diagrams for volume settings, a grid for numbered buttons, and + and - for picture quality.  Indeed, below this diagram we find the present work’s title underlined: REMOTE COMMANDER.

Basquiat needed constant stimulation whilst he worked; whether in the form of reference books, comics, magazines, music, or even the company he kept whilst painting, his surrounding environment became the interwoven threads of a complex cultural tapestry. Part of the baby-boomer generation, Basquiat was born into an era of post-war prosperity in the US; coming of age in a post-Warhol era at the dawn of MTV, he famously liked to draw in front of the television. Larry Gagosian used this as a metaphor for the artist’s sponge-like approach to picture-making, describing him as an “an open channel” through which every stream of culture flowed and coalesced (Larry Gagosian cited in: Henry Louis Gates Jr., ‘Sweet Bird of Youth’, in: Exh. Cat., New York, Brooklyn Museum, Basquiat: The Unknown Notebooks, 2015, p. 17). We can certainly discern the effect and traces of televisual stimuli in the cartoon figures and icons that populate the collaged Xeroxed drawings in Remote Commander. Echoing Surrealism’s experiments with automatism and its suppression of conscious control, Basquiat’s drawings and succinct linguistic notations are the product of an open mind in free-association; they present an unfettered and untrammelled connection between the hand, eye, and brain, and they communicate the inseparability between Basquiat’s art and his life.

Synthesising and juxtaposing myriad cultural referents – from the toy packaging (Basquiat was an avid collector of antique toys) of ‘JUMBO SNAKES’, anatomical diagrams, and snatches of phrases and sentences such as ‘TEETH BECOME BLACK’ and the crossed out ‘ROOSEVELT MARCH 4 1933’ – Basquiat’s collage of drawings emphasises the importance of repetition, replication, and most of all, the pre-eminence of words. As American literary critic Henry Louis Gates Jr. has explained, “Language, like painting, was his craft, and he practised it simultaneously as one who knows its secrets like a scribe and as one discovering its magic as if for the first time… Basquiat could see and hear what the average city dweller couldn’t:  the perpetual ticker-tape parade of slogans, images, and conversational sounds bites floating through the air” (Ibid., p. 29). Basquiat himself said as much: in Cathleen McGuigan’s famous 1985 New York Times article, ‘New Art New Money’, Basquiat is quoted saying that he uses words “like brushstrokes” (Jean-Michel Basquiat cited in: Cathleen McGuigan, ‘New Art New Money’, New York Times, 10 February 1985, online).

Utterly enamoured with the Beat poets, Basquiat used to carry well-thumbed copies of Jack Kerouac’s Subterraneans and William Burroughs’ Junkie around with him. The painter’s manipulation of language has frequently been likened to the Dada-ist cut-up technique popularised by Burroughs and Brion Gysin during the 1950s and ‘60s – an aleatory approach to writing in which finished lines of text are spliced together to engender an entirely new literary composition. In many ways the coeval work of Robert Rauschenberg forms a visual counterpart to this literary development. In 1954 Rauschenberg began to include disparate found objects in his very first Combine paintings, in 1958 he began to juxtapose images printed in newspapers and magazines in the series of solvent Transfer Drawings, and between 1962 and ’64 he would silkscreen these found images onto canvas. Fused together via an expressionistic application of paint and scratched graphite hatchings, Rauschenberg’s re-presentation of found, ready-made, imagery engendered an entirely new pictorial statement that foregrounded the evocative potential of chance juxtapositions and mirrored the overload of visual stimuli brought on by the newly accelerated pace of modern, urban, life.

Basquiat’s work forms a synthesis of these two milestones in the history of twentieth-century art and literature. His seamless marriage of text and image, his use of Xerox as a means of incorporating the mechanical and ready-made, and his fluent application of Ab-Ex styled painterly marks together offered a much needed anodyne for the navel-gazing sterility of Minimalism. Throughout the 1970s and up to the early 1980s, the self-referential intellectualism eptiomised by Robert Ryman’s white paintings and Donald Judd’s empty aluminium boxes had inadvertently transformed art appreciation into an inaccessible and elite club. Born in reaction to this aesthetic asceticism, Basquiat’s work screams out at you, both pictorially and verbally; his works are there to be read and de-coded, and his liberal use of strident colour, assured hand, and compositional virtuosity is both utterly seductive and undeniably original. It reflects the TV-watching, channel-surfing, attention-deficit, rebel-attitude of a counter-cultural generation that emerged during the early 1980s, as UK punk turned into New York's New Wave. As the graffiti artists and subway taggers became the early MCs and DJ pioneers of hip-hop – whose sampled sound-bites, spoken words, and electronic drum machines reflected perfectly the artistic vanguard that developed out of street culture – Basquiat was there at the fine-art forefront. Like nascent hip-hop, his work gave a voice to the marginalised and under privileged. Ultimately, the paintings of Jean-Michel Basquiat are a prodigious amalgam of art-historical erudition, searing contemporaneity, and the heroic dream of making it big against the odds.

Contemporary Art Evening Auction

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London