The Meteoric Life and Death of Jean-Michel Basquiat as Captured By Four of His Virtuosic Paintings

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With the art world applauding the Fondation Louis Vuitton’s recently opened exhibition spanning the work of Jean-Michel Basquiat, Sotheby’s is pleased to announce that our Contemporary Art Evening Auction (14 November, New York) will feature a group of four works by the artist that emerge from the same distinguished private collection. The collection offers: Untitled (Pollo Frito) from the critical year of 1982, when he fully ‘arrived’ on the international art scene; Taxi, 45th/Broadway, a collaboration painting with Andy Warhol circa 1984–85 that was formerly in the collection of Gianni Versace; Untitled from 1982, a vibrant and densely-layered work on paper; and Untitled from 1988, a poignant monochromatic painting completed in the final year of Basquiat’s short life.

Together these masterful works embody the remarkable narrative of Jean-Michel Basquiat’s explosive artistic career, while individually each represents a seminal touchstone of the artist’s oeuvre. Click ahead to discover more.

The Meteoric Life and Death of Jean-Michel Basquiat as Captured By Four of His Virtuosic Paintings

  • Jean-Michel Basquiat, Untitled, 1982. Estimate $1,500,000–2,000,000.
    Untitled, 1982 is a masterful example of the artist’s instinctive and lauded abilities as a draughtsman. Typical of Basquiat's works on paper, the mark-making is urgent, the color varied and the signature motif of the head central to the composition — an enduring icon that recurs throughout his body of work.

    Basquiat broke out to fame in 1982, the year of Untitled's creation: he received his first solo exhibition with Annina Nosei in New York, followed quickly by shows with Larry Gagosian in Los Angeles, Bruno Bischofberger in Zurich, and an invitation to participate at Documenta 7 in Kassel, Germany, as the youngest artist in attendance.
  • Jean-Michel Basquiat, Untitled (Pollo Frito), 1982. Estimate Upon Request.
    Paralleling the artist’s spectacular rise to international acclaim, the explosive mark-making and scrawls of Untitled (Pollo Frito) are fueled by the furious artistic drive which guided Basquiat as he began his ascent. Revealing virtuosic painterly abilities, Basquiat builds up intricately impastoed layers of oilstick, acrylic and enamel upon the surface of the present work, and then slices through them with searing incisions, working positively and negatively to create an incredibly densely worked surface.

    This searing diptych represents the pivotal moment in 1982 when Basquiat as street artist became inducted into the exclusive world of fine art and celebrity artists.
  • Jean-Michel Basquiat, Untitled (Pollo Frito), 1982. Estimate Upon Request.
    In Untitled (Pollo Frito) , Basquiat’s gestural vigor from his years tagging downtown New York as the graffiti artist (and alter-ego) SAMO comes to the fore, centralized within the craggy face and searing gaze of the sainted visage. Featuring both the artist’s moniker — the three-pointed crown — as well as a crown of thorns, Untitled (Pollo Frito) asserts the artist’s reigning supremacy.
  • Jean-Michel Basquiat, Untitled (Pollo Frito), 1982. Estimate Upon Request.
    The painting is replete with Basquiat's signature textural references drawn from the unfiltered grit of Lower Manhattan: “DANGER” and “BROKE GLASS” collide with the more enigmatic “ASBESTOS” and “POLLO FRITO,” infusing the present work with the aggressive, exhilarating rhythm of the 1980s, evoking spoken word poetry or freestyle rap against the neon backdrop.
  • Jean-Michel Basquiat and Andy Warhol, Taxi, 45th/Broadway, Circa 1984-85. Estimate $6,000,000–8,000,000.
    Basquiat’s rise to prominence in the years following his breakout in 1982 introduced him to Andy Warhol. Taxi, 45th/Broadway embodies the dynamic union of these two formidable artistic geniuses. In Keith Haring’s words, “The paintings which resulted from [Warhol’s and Basquiat’s] collaboration are the perfect testimony to the depth and importance of their friendship. The quality of the paintings mirrors the quality of the relationship. The sense of humor which permeates all the works recalls the laughter while they were being made. They are truly an invention of what William S. Burroughs called The Third Mind — two amazing minds fusing together to create a third totally separate and unique one.”(Keith Haring, October 4, 1988, New York)
  • PHOTOGRAPHY COURTESY OF PVDE /BRIDGEMAN IMAGES.
    Basquiat and Warhol's Collaborations
    Each a highly influential artist in his own right, Basquiat and Warhol began collaborating in the mid-1980s in preparation for a joint exhibition at Tony Shafrazi Gallery in New York in 1985. These collaboration paintings represent Basquiat’s only venture with another artist.
  • Jean-Michel Basquiat and Andy Warhol, Taxi, 45th/Broadway, circa 1984-85. Estimate $6,000,000–8,000,000.
    Capitalizing on the narrative power of imagery, Taxi, 45th/Broadway deftly engages with art history, politics and race. A black man, made invisible in the black darkness of night, endures the label ‘Negro’ as he unsuccessfully attempts to hail a cab, while a white taxi driver ignores his plea and instead curses profanities at him. Despite Basquiat’s meteoric ascension from downtown graffiti street artist to famous icon of the 1980s New York art scene, his race still prevailed as his primary identifier outside the realm of the art world. Keith haring noted: “Being black and a kid and having dreadlocks, he couldn’t even get a taxi. But he could spend $10,000 in his pocket.” (Michael Wines, “Jean-Michel Basquiat: Hazards of Sudden Success and Fame,” New York Times, September 27, 1988)
  • Taxi, 45th/Broadway in the home of Gianni Versace, 2005.
  • Jean‐Michel Basquiat, Untitled, 1988. Estimate $2,000,000–4,000,000.
    In this work from the final year of Basquiat’s young life, of which fewer than 30 examples are known today, we see the artist confronting and anticipating his own mortality. In several key paintings from this year, Basquiat wrestled with the reality of his own humanity by returning to the exploration of human anatomy that fascinated him since boyhood. Basquiat reduces anatomy to its most elemental forms, a kind of self-portrait that reflects his meditation on his own brilliance and cultural status as a prodigy haunted by his own demons.
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