“I wanted to be a Star not a Gallery Mascot”

Jean-Michel Basquiat

You might ask yourself what all the fuss is about? The artist had an incredibly short career, was a self-taught artist who started with graffiti art, tagging trains and buildings on the streets of Manhattan under the pseudonym of SAMO. However, this young African American from Brookyln, from the age of 20 started to create a completely new language in art and quickly was lauded for regenerating the 1980s art scene in New York. Famous for elevating graffiti art, he is also revered for being a multi-talented genius as an artist, poet, musician and DJ.

His highly distinctive artworks, often using striking block colour contrasts, unusually distorted flat figures, are littered with scribbled text and symbols, that are powerful messages referencing his heritage, religion, pop culture but also troubling dichotomies in society, such as the shocking imbalance between rich and poor and between people of different race. His works go beyond opportunistic statements or personal history and speak of universal truths.

For any viewer ready for the challenge of Basquiat’s unique visual language, get ready for endless esoteric interpretation and fascination, as well as the physical raw energy and power of his imagery. Often imbued with spirituality, one needs to dig deep to understand the artworks, they are not just politically charged as they raise timeless philosophical questions.

Basquiat achieved his goal and quickly shot to Stardom.

There was plenty of glamour as he hung out with other celebrities in the arts such as Blondie, Warhol and Keith Haring. Basquiat is famous for his artistic collaborations with other greats such as Warhol.  

Within a 7 year period of artistic fame Basquiat’s life tragically ended, with the curse of aged 27, as many other young talents suffered the same fate, drugs and fame took its hold and he died of a drug overdose.

But he is not famous for being famous, or famous for dying young, this Artist has entered the ranks of true talent and is a heavyweight when it comes to the value of Contemporary Art as demonstrated by the extremely high prices his artworks command today.

His art has consistently climbed in value over the last 6 years. 11 of his artworks have exceeded 20 million dollars in recent auctions and his artworks have steadily advanced to the very top of the auction prices at the Contemporary Art sales.

Very few (about 10 artists) have ever managed to break the $100,000,000 million dollar price level for auction sales and Basquiat has done it.

With one painting Untitled (1982) selling for $110.5 million dollars in a Sotheby’s auction sale in 2017, this was the 6th most expensive painting to be sold at auction. Basquiat had also set an auction world record as the highest amount ever paid for an American Artist.

He is now as important as artists such as Warhol, Picasso and Francis Bacon when it comes to the most exceptionally desired and highly prized artworks for top end collectors.

So when the Barbican Art Gallery in the UK decided to hold their first retrospective of the Artist’s works, called Basquiat Boom For Real (an exhibition that has recently closed in London on 27th January 2018) it is perhaps unsurprising the Gallery achieved their best ever attended exhibition in the history of the Gallery; with over 200,000 visitors, a sell-out show, with late viewings to accommodate the high demand and nearly complete sell out of all merchandise and books.

With over 100 paintings and drawings on display, as well as archival material and rare film and photography, it was the first major exhibition of Basquiat’s works in the UK for over 20 years.

Blockbuster exhibitions like this make our Galleries and Museums great. The phenomenal work it takes to pull together many works from international collectors, galleries and museums cannot be overstated. These exhibitions take several years to plan and organise and that is why they become more than just an exhibition but a once in a lifetime event for hundreds of thousands of people to enjoy.

If you missed the Barbican exhibition, the good news is you can still see it in Frankfurt as it opens on 16th February 2018 at the Schirn Kunsthalle. However, book early as its likely to be a sell out show there too.

If you would like to have a free consultation from our arts consultancy on buying art, please contact me at jessica@vitrivianartsconsultancy.com. We advise clients on buying artworks at all pricing levels, from affordable art under £5000 to high value art.