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Onion Gum
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Onion Gum
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Onion Gum

US
NY, US
US

About the item

Painted in 1983, Jean-Michel Basquiat’s ebullient Onion Gum, is an authoritative example of the artist’s unique brand of gestural mark making.  The painting’s seemingly nonsensical text, recalling the artist’s robust graffiti past, is a visually meandering yet complex topography rife with scientific, historical and socially anthropological references. Painted at a time when Basquiat was at the height of his artistic prowess, at the mere age of twenty-three, he had just exhibited to critical acclaim at Documenta VII in Kassel, Germany. In March of that same year, Basquiat was invited to participate in the Whitney Biennial, a high accolade since at that time he was one of the youngest artists ever to be included in this important survey exhibition of the most current trends in contemporary American Art. Basquiat’s inclusion would prove additionally fortuitous since at the Whitney dinner he met Mary Boone, who had been dubbed the “New Queen of the Art Scene” on a magazine cover the previous year. Boone would soon represent Basquiat alongside the Swiss dealer Bruno Bischofberger, giving the young artist access to an international and influential art market. This was a lucrative time for Basquiat. His star was on the rise, and he was now simultaneously a commercial as well as critical success. In an interview with Cathleen McGuigan, concerning the years 1983-1984, Basquiat noted, "I had some money. I made the best paintings ever. I was completely reclusive, worked a lot,…" (Jean-Michel Basquiat as quoted in Cathleen McGuigan, "New Money: The Marketing of an American Artist," The New York Times Magazine, February 10, 1985, p. 29) \nIn Onion Gum, Basquiat presents an exhaustive compendium of signs, words, and visual stimuli that directly parallel the expediency of his thought process itself. Words in fact, define the visual compass of seminal paintings executed simultaneously to the present work such as Museum Security (Broadway Meltdown). The legibility and simplicity of the childlike writing is in stark contrast to the layered commentary, juxtaposing the mythic and the everyday, art and advertising, and as such, high and low. The immediacy of application and nuanced primitivism of execution achieve a distinctly unique and unfettered iconographic whole. The humorous writing seemingly mitigates the idol-like reference of the serpent flanked mask, a Pagan of advertising. Basquiat employs a very different means of appropriating the text itself, as the slang “Onion Gum” is used to denote a product which, no matter how much advertising and promotion is brought to bear, will suffer a commercial demise. Basquiat underscores the point by repeating the obvious phrase “Onion Gum Makes Your Mouth Taste Like Onions” but Basquiat’s genius in stressing this disclosure – at the height of his commercial success – is to irreverently display every confidence in his ultimate ability to “sell” his product.\n\nIt is during this time that the dialogue between Warhol and Basquiat was at its apex – due largely in part to the fact that in 1983, Basquiat moved into a two-story building on Great Jones owned by Warhol and they famously began the first of the “collaboration” paintings at the suggestion of their mutual dealer, Bruno Bischofberger. Their art-world “marriage” was one of apparent interdependency as well as mutual regeneration – Andy’s public fame fascinated Basquiat, while Jean-Michel provided Andy with a newly relevant rebellious image again. It is fascinating to compare how Warhol incorporated advertising into his artistic vocabulary such as in Close Cover before Striking (Pepsi-Cola), 1962, with its blunt repetition of the imagery, whereas for Jean-Michel Basquiat, imagination and interpretation prevail in his canvases.\n\nOnion Gum is an enigmatic orchestration of words and symbols and the resident imagery nods to Basquiat’s subversive street art past and Pop Art icons, while deliberately and simultaneously referencing the ploys of present day advertising. The bold yellow canvas radiates an aesthetic levity; however the thematic context of the painting is, in typical Basquiat bravura, far more weighted and an active locus where creative multiplicity collides. Credited from the very outset with promulgating one of the most original and remarkable manner of painting of our time, the New York born Basquiat culled his rebellious-devil-may-care aesthetic from the very streets that proffered the very possibility of imagery and expression.  "In this, Basquiat shows an innate skill. The artist cannot identify with his own cultural models. And as a consequence, he exploits them, uses them as simple `deviated and deviating lines’." (Achille Bonito Oliva, “The Perennial Shadow of Art in Basquiat's Brief Life," in Exh. Cat., Jean-Michel Basquiat, Lugano, 2005, p. 24)\nTitled on the reverse
US
NY, US
US

medium

Acrylic and oilstick on canvas

creator

Jean-Michel Basquiat

condition

This painting is in excellent condition. Please contact the Contemporary Art department at 212-606-7254 for the condition report prepared by Terrence Mahon. The canvas is not framed. In response to your inquiry, we are pleased to provide you with a general report of the condition of the property described above. Since we are not professional conservators or restorers, we urge you to consult with a restorer or conservator of your choice who will be better able to provide a detailed, professional report. Prospective buyers should inspect each lot to satisfy themselves as to condition and must understand that any statement made by Sotheby's is merely a subjective qualified opinion. NOTWITHSTANDING THIS REPORT OR ANY DISCUSSIONS CONCERNING CONDITION OF A LOT, ALL LOTS ARE OFFERED AND SOLD "AS IS" IN ACCORDANCE WITH THE CONDITIONS OF SALE PRINTED IN THE CATALOGUE.

dimensions

78 x 80 in. 198.1 x 203.2 cm.

exhibition

Mälmo, Rooseum, Jean-Michel Basquiat & Julian Schnabel, April - May 1989, cat. no. 15, p. 33, illustrated in color  New York, Whitney Museum of American Art; Houston, The Menil Collection; Des Moines Art Center; Montgomery, Alabama, Montgomery Museum of Fine Arts, Jean-Michel Basquiat, October 1992 - January 1994, p. 149, illustrated in color Trieste, Civico Museo Revoltella Galleria d'Arte Moderna, Basquiat, May - September 1999, p. 73, illustrated in color Lugano, Museo d'Arte Moderna della Città di Lugano, Jean-Michel Basquiat, March - June 2005, cat. no. 20, p. 50, illustrated in color St. Moritz, Galerie Bruno Bischofberger, Jean-Michel Basquiat, December 2012 - January 2011

literature

Richard Marshall and Jean-Louis Prat, Jean-Michel Basquiat, Paris, 1996, 2nd ed., vol. II, fig. 2, p. 100, illustrated in color Richard Marshall and Jean-Louis Prat, Jean-Michel Basquiat, Paris, 2000, 3rd ed., vol. II, fig. 2, p. 154, illustrated in color

provenance

Mary Boone, New York/ Bruno Bischofberger, Zurich Galerie Bruno Bischofberger, Zurich Acquired by the present owner from the above

signedDate

Titled on the reverse

consignmentDesignation

From an American Private Collection

creator_nationality_dates

1960 - 1988


*Note: The price is not recalculated to the current value. It refers to the actual final price at the time the item was sold.

*Note: The price is not recalculated to the current value. It refers to the actual final price at the time the item was sold.


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