Jean-Michel Basquiat was a prolific figure of the 1980s New York art scene, rising quickly to fame at a young age before leaving behind a dynamic legacy. We celebrate his explosive artistic output and contributions to art and history.
Facts of Note
At the age of eight, Basquiat was hit by an automobile and suffered severe internal injuries. While recovering, he was gifted a copy of Gray’s Anatomy which directly influenced the anatomical focus of his future work.
In 1984, Untitled (Skull) achieved a result of $19,000 at Christie’s which was more than four times the purchase price from the year prior solidifying Basquiat's celebrity status as an artist.
Early in his career, Basquiat attempted to sell one of his works to Andy Warhol only to be disregarded. The two artists later formed a close friendship and became collaborators on various projects. Warhol subsequently became Basquiat’s landlord in the last years of his life.
Total $11.95 by Andy Warhol, 1984. Basquiat owned multiple works by Warhol. This piece, one of only a few pieces of art Basquiat chose to display in his home, hung above his bed for years.
“I don't think about art when I'm working. I try to think about life.”
In 2018 Wright presented Jean-Michel Basquiat: An Intimate Collection, an auction created from a selection of works given to a close friend of the renowned artist. Never before offered at auction, the original works offered a snapshot of the 1980s New York art scene.
Auction Results Jean-Michel Basquiat
Jean-Michel Basquiat 1960–1988
Jean-Michel Basquiat was a prolific figure of the 1980s New York art scene rising quickly to fame at a young age before leaving behind a dynamic legacy. Born in Brooklyn, New York to parents of Haitian and Puerto Rican heritage he was raised fluent in French, Spanish, and English. The melding of traditions and odes to African-Caribbean heritage would later become reoccurring themes in his neo-expressionistic body of work. Basquiat showed an interest in art at a young age frequently visiting the Brooklyn Museum of Art, New York among other institutions with his mother.
By 1979, Basquiat was becoming a recognized figure for his graffiti emblazing the Lower East Side with classmate Al Diaz who together formed the creative collaboration SAMO. At the age of seventeen, Basquiat dropped out of school altogether to pursue his career in art. He began selling hand-painted postcards and t-shirts near the steps of the Museum of Modern Art, New York while becoming immersed in the city's art scene in the same year forming a relationship and collaboration with Keith Haring. Basquiat’s first exhibition was a group show in 1980 titled the Times Square Show presenting the downtown and uptown avant-garde works with artists such as Jenny Holzer and Kenny Scharf.
1981 was a record year for Basquiat beginning with his installations in the exhibition, New York / New Wave, which attracted the attention of various art dealers and led to a series of self-curated group exhibitions. He received international gallery exposure with his first solo exhibition at the Galleria d’Arte Emilio Mazzoli in Italy, and in December of that year Rene Ricard wrote an extensive article on Basquiat that was published in Artforum magazine.
In March 1982, his primary art dealer Annina Nosei presented Basquiat's first solo exhibition in the United States followed by five consecutive solos shows that year. In June, at the age of twenty-one, he was the youngest of nearly 200 artists exhibited at documenta 7 in Kassel, Germany alongside Cy Twombly, Andy Warhol, Francesco Clemente, and Keith Haring among others. In the years that followed, he was included in exhibitions at the Whitney Museum of American Art, New York and The Museum of Modern Art, New York. With exorbitant success also came hardships as Basquiat’s personal struggles with drug addiction and other health issues were documented by close friends such as Andy Warhol.
Jean-Michel Basquiat’s untimely death in 1988 halted a brilliant career. In 2017, his painting of a skull became the highest grossing result to ever be achieved at auction by an American artist. His legacy has been honored by retrospectives at the Whitney Museum of American Art in 1992 and the Brooklyn Museum, New York in 2005 among many other institutions that recognize his contributions to art and history.