BASQUIAT X WARHOL
ICONIC COLLABORATION OR CYNICAL EXPERIMENT?
Caroline recently jetted off to the Barbican to see a major retrospective of the work of Jean-Michel Basquiat. We have long been admirers of Basquiat’s work since he emerged as a pioneering prodigy of the 1980s downtown New York art scene.
The show “captures the spirit of this self-taught artist, poet, DJ and musician whose influence, since his death at 27 in 1988, has been enormous.”
As well has his own work Basquiat collaborated with artists such as Keith Haring, Julian Schnabel and probably most famously Andy Warhol. It’s the collaboration with Warhol that got us thinking how even the best ideas are not guaranteed to be a success.
Here we had the godfather of modern pop-art meets the cool new kid on the block. On paper this should have been a wonderfully creative marriage but looking back we can see how it maybe felt more like right time, right place. As Jonny Cutrone quoted in Warhol: The Biography by Victor Bockris, “The relationship was symbiotic. 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.”
Cynics viewed Basquiat as a fame hungry leech and Warhol as an opportunist who took advantage of the young artist’s relative naivete. Others though were convinced there was genuine adoration between them as late Interview editor Glenn O’Brien suggested, Warhol loved Basquiat “like a son”.
Was this collaboration destined for success or failure?
It’s understood that their collaborative pieces usually began with Warhol (unsurprisingly) silkscreening a recognisable logo or product onto a canvas, which Basquiat would promptly write or paint over, leaving his own mark on the work.
Warhol mentioned in his diary, “[Jean Michael] came up and painted over a painting that I did, and I don’t know if it got better or not”.
Caroline is equally unsure.
They began collaborating in 1984 and the early works such as Untitled, (General Electric II) and Bananas are visually arresting, but is that more due to the clash of the style of Warhol’s celebration of Capitalism vs Basquiat’s urban anger, than the art itself?
We are fans of both artists individually, but less enthusiastic about this collaboration.
Their relationship became increasingly strained as their partnership wore on, barely speaking to each other, and all but ended in September 1985, when “Warhol and Basquiat: Paintings” opened at the Tony Shafrazi Gallery in Soho and flopped with mostly negative reviews. Many of those reviews claiming that, as the cynics suspected, Warhol had used Basquiat to stay relevant at a time when he was struggling to sell work.A close friend of the pair, Tamara Davis, said “I don’t know if Jean-Michel felt bad that he let Andy down or if he believed what the press inferred that Andy was taking advantage of him.”
Either way, the failure of that show and consequently their collaboration had a devastating impact on Basquiat who left New York and never returned to art.
Footnote: Sotheby’s recently sold a Basquiat ‘Untitled ‘(1982) for $110.4 unseating Warhol’s top earner ‘Silver Car Crash’ (Double Disaster) (1963) of $105 to become America’s most expensive artist.