Artistic accomplices, Jean-Michel Basquiat and Andy Warhol produced 160 paintings together between 1983 and 1985, 70 of which are shown at the Louis Vuitton Foundation in Paris until August 28. A clash of titans.
In 1979, when Jean-Michel Basquiat meets Andy Warhol for the first time, he is still only a young rising figure of graffiti whose signature, SAMO (Same Old Shit) wearing a crown, covers the walls of the south of Manhattan. Noticing Warhol seated in a restaurant, he manages to sell him one of the handmade postcards he made with a friend. According to his relatives, Basquiat exults to have achieved this feat.
In 1982, during their second meeting, Basquiat was an artist on the rise and this time he intended to dazzle the Pope of pop art. The Swiss art dealer Bruno Bischofberger takes him on October 4 to the Factory of Warhol, who has the habit of taking a photo of his guests with the Polaroid and of making a portrait of them. Basquiat does not cut it but Bischofberger takes pictures of them both in stride. Then Basquiat slips away. Two hours later, he had a fresh canvas sent to the Factory, Dos Cabezas, which represents them with humor, Warhol and him, as equals, according to this polaroid. The artist with the peroxide hairstyle is amazed. ” I’m jealous, he’s faster than mei”, he will say.
A free-jazz type conversation
The fascination is now mutual and their artistic complicity, pushed by their representative Bruno Bischofberger, can start. While Warhol, 54, is no longer at the height of his creativity and his star is fading, the absolute freedom and inventiveness of RadiantChild 22 years old, come at just the right time to stimulate him. To the point that he resumed his brushes, he who only produced serigraphs of portraits of celebrities.
This exceptional pas de deux will give rise to 160 canvases created with four hands between 1983 and 1985, 70 of which will be shown at the Louis Vuitton Foundation from April 4. This exhibition is presented as the “first worldwide retrospective of this magnitude“of the joint work of these two art icons.
This collaboration is “a kind of physical conversation that goes through colors, not words“, summed up their artist friend Keith Haring. “There was a free-jazz type improvisation side, very organic and very fluid, never boring“, testifies for his part Jay Shriver, Warhol’s assistant at the time. Their work “was intense, they worked on several canvases, sometimes in monumental formats, for whole days, without having set the slightest rule“, reports the curator of the exhibition Dieter Buchhart in the catalog of the exhibition.
“Andy started most of the paintings. He would put on something very recognizable, a newspaper headline or a brand logo, and, in a way, I would disfigure him. Then I was trying to get it back, I wanted it to comb again, then I was working on it again“, said Basquiat in an interview with director Tamra Davis in 1986. “I think the paintings we do together are better when you can’t tell who did what“, completed Warhol in his diary.
A phenomenal fusion of rage and irony
At the Vuitton Foundation, two aesthetics, two generations and two temperaments intersect and merge: that of “Basquiat’s rage and commitment to making the black figure exist“, with a “fanciede “footprint of”gravity“, described at the microphone of AFP Mrs. Suzanne Pagé, general commissioner and artistic director of the foundation. And that, “more distanced” And “not without irony” by Warhol. Drama, police violence and racism thus intersect consumerist madness, popular culture and pop imagery, all intertwined with signs, graffiti, symbols and numbers.
We notice for example Taxi 45th Broadway (1984-1985), a work in yellow on a black background in which a silhouette of a man crossed out with the word “negro” is hailing a taxi. The red-faced white driver ignores him and walks past him, chuckling. A huge painting 10 meters long, entitled African Masksa mixture of masks and real figures – a probable allusion to an exhibition at the MoMA on primitivism and modernity – is part, according to Ms. Suzanne Pagé, ” of the most successful, the organic ones, those where we no longer distinguish who did whati”.
In this regard, 6.99 is another success. This painting, literally covered in scars, was one of Warhol’s favourites. It shows the particular relationship to the body that the two artists had – Basquiat had been run over by a car in childhood and Warhol had been shot and wounded by Valérie Solanas in 1968. Painted by Warhol, an advertising nude is in the center of this canvas. Basquiat split the skin and exposed the flesh, adding numerous scars elsewhere, symbols of their personal wounds.
Their last joint work, Ten Punching Bags (Las Supper), never shown during their lifetime, is an installation: on ten punching bags, Warhol painted the face of Christ according to The Lord’s Supper by Leonardo da Vinci. Basquiat affixed the word “judge” to each one, like so many repeated blows. A work that also refers to the fatal beating of a young graffiti artist, Michael Stewart, by police officers in 1983, officers who were acquitted two years later. A case that had marked Basquiat.
A fight to prevail
Hard to believe but yet their first joint exhibition, which began on September 14, 1985 at the Tony Shafrazi Gallery in New York, with 16 paintings, had been a flop. On the poster, the two artists posed in combat gear, boxing gloves crossed over their chests. This famous shot by Michael Halsband, visible at the exhibition, announced a match with brush strokes. But this clash of the titans left the critics cold. They suspected Warhol of trying to get back on his feet by using Basquiat’s new blood, which he would have made his “mascot”, as Vivien Raynor wrote in a scathing article in the New York Times a few days later. Their cooperation did not resist: stung and wounded, Basquiat put an end to their joint work, without however cutting ties.
Andy Warhol died suddenly on February 22, 1987, at the age of 58, following a trivial gallbladder operation. Very affected, Basquiat created a three-part assemblage as a tombstone for Warhol, Gravestone, where we recognize several references to the work of his elder. A year and a half later, Basquiat also died of an overdose, at the age of 27.
Exhibition “Basquiat x Warhol with four hands” from April 5 to August 28, 2023
Louis Vuitton Foundation, 8 avenue du Mahatma Ghandi, Bois de Boulogne, Paris
Monday, Wednesday and Thursday from 11 a.m. to 8 p.m.
Friday from 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. (evening on the first Friday of the month until 11 p.m.)
Saturday and Sunday from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m.
Prices: 16 euros (check the website for reduced and family prices)