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Zenith, 1985 – Jean-Michel Basquiat and Andy Warhol
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Jean-Michel Basquiat and Andy Warhol\nZenith\n1985\nacrylic on canvas\n116 7/8 x 264 7/8 in. (297 x 673 cm.)
US
NY, US
US

year

1985

notes

Few artistic collaborations can touch the mystique inherent in the fusion of Andy Warhol and Jean-Michel Basquiat, each the greatest artistic figure of his respective generation. While Warhol’s experience in the art world amounted to over three decades of charisma and controversy by 1982, at the time, Basquiat could count only a few seasons in the public eye. As a friendship, their time together was legendary, each contributing to the social aura of the other: Warhol lent Basquiat his legendary gravitas, while Basquiat invigorated Warhol with a spirit of youth. As creative partners, their time together was a maelstrom, initially prolific yet cut short by the ultimate contrast of their personalities. Though their public partnership ended after their exhibition at the Tony Shafrazi Gallery in 1985, Warhol and Basquiat’s collaboration on canvas was a moment far ahead of its time, producing a finite number of masterpieces that contemporary critics failed to acknowledge as such. The aptly named Zenith, 1985 puts to rest this monumental controversy, forever asserting the combined effect of their genius.Their creative collaboration was of course presaged by their fascinating companionship, beginning October 4, 1982. Warhol’s detailed diary entries give us a privileged picture of their first meeting, an arrangement by Warhol’s Swiss dealer Bruno Bischofberger, who had long desired that the two share each other’s company. As Warhol states in his entry, “Down to meet Bruno Bischofberger (cab $7.50). He brought Jean Michel Basquiat with him. He’s the kid who used the name “Samo” when he used to sit on the sidewalk in Greenwich Village and paint T-shirts…he was just one of those kids who drove me crazy…he’s black but some people say he’s Puerto Rican so I don’t know…And so had lunch for them and then I took a Polaroid and he went home and within two hours a painting was back, still wet, of him and me together.”(The Andy Warhol Diaries, Ed. P. Hackett, New York, 1989, p. 462)Even from the start, Warhol found Basquiat to be an enigma. His memories of Basquiat as a troubled youth, immersed in petty vandalism that scaled the heights of art, as embodied in his reference to Basquiat’s graffiti days as a member of the two-man pseudonym “SAMO”, gave way to a new man and image, something much larger and much more compelling. In addition, Basquiat’s mixed Puerto Rican/Haitian heritage gave Warhol pause; for a man who had the uncanny ability to size up anyone with a single glance, Basquiat was a cultural phantom—a mystery even to Warhol’s marvelous powers of summation. In turn, Basquiat was smitten with Warhol’s imposing reputation, clashing so violently with his disarming and marvelous demeanor, a contrast that readily appealed to the contradictory influences inherent to Basquiat himself.Basquiat’s gift sealed a friendship that was to flourish for three years, punctuated by two periods of collaboration. The first, facilitated by Bischofberger, yielded canvases painted by Warhol, Basquiat, and, of course, Francesco Clemente, another of Bischofberger’s clients. These initial collaborations were executed over the period of 1983-84, each painter bringing his stylistic influences to the same canvas. Following this period, Basquiat and Warhol continued to trade paintings as gifts, a tradition sparked by Basquiat’s present of a canvas upon their first meeting. Socially, the two blossomed, dominating Greenwich Village and Soho with unequaled social prowess.Their next collaboration was not an orchestrated melding of styles as it had been in 1983 and 1984, but rather an organic need to share the same artistic space only between the two of them. As Bischofberger remembers: “When I met Warhol again, about half a year later in the spring of 1985, on one of my almost monthly trips to New York, he revealed to me that he and Jean-Michel Basquiat had for several months now been working together in the Factory on a large number of collaborations. (B. Bischofberger, “Collaborations: Reflections on/and Experiences with Basquiat, Clemente and Warhol”, The Andy Warhol Show, Rome, 2004, p. 43)Bischofberger found their canvasses to be overt expressions of their most idiosyncratic visual motifs and trademarks, interacting in ways that exhibited a clear symbiotic relationship between the two hands involved. As we can discern from the present lot, each painter brought forth unexpected results from the other. Warhol typically engaged with the canvas first, a series of advertising slogans and designs erupting from his hand in a fury. Splayed across the center of the piece, both “50% OFF” and “Zenith” echo contemporary commonalities in advertising yet also hearken back to Warhol’s first career as a commercial artist. In addition, the youthful spark in Warhol precipitated by his fortuitous collaboration with Basquiat lent a marvelous flamboyance to his manner of painting, “…featuring heraldically hand-painted enlargements of advertising images, headlines, and company logos but partly in painterly free brushstrokes, similar to a part of his early work of 1960-61,”( B. Bischofberger, “Collaborations: Reflections on/and Experiences with Basquiat, Clemente and Warhol”, The Andy Warhol Show, Rome, 2004, p. 43) Warhol was transported to an era two decades past, when his own originality was in ascendance the way that Basquiat’s was in 1985.Basquiat, in turn, expanded his free-hand painting to the realm of print, influenced by Warhol’s signature techniques. Bischofberger testifies that Basquiat typically tackled the canvas after Warhol, allowing Warhol’s work to shape that of his own: “Basquiat was usually the second painter to work on the canvasses and had fused his spontaneous, expressive, and effusive iconography with that of Warhol.”(B. Bischofberger, “Collaborations: Reflections on/and Experiences with Basquiat, Clemente and Warhol”, The Andy Warhol Show, Rome, 2004, p. 44) Consequently, as we observe in the Basquiat-generated figures at left, his regularly violent manner of spare and vigorous painting is transformed to that resembling a free-handed stencil, blocky and intentionally molded to mimic the seams of a silkscreen.This departure from his normal means of action-painting signaled a new influence for the young artist, the man who breathed his work upon the same canvas: “While Warhol, inspired by Basquiat, revisited his beginnings as a painter around 1960, Basquiat now began to experiment with the silkscreen techniques introduced by Warhol as a means of sampling his own earlier collages, a move that correlated with his departure from the three-dimensional pictorial object.” (D. Bucchart, “Jean-Michel Basquiat: A Revolutionary Caught Between Everyday Life, Knowledge, and Myth”, Basquiat, Basel, 2010, p. XVII) Basquiat’s shapes begin to flatten and expand. Perhaps the greatest achievement of Zenith, 1985, is its marvelous ability to open a disjointed and intertwined narrative through the interaction of its two collaborators’ hands. From left to right, we can trace a progressing story of art in the 1980s, regardless of its spontaneous and accidental origins in the brushstrokes of two giants.Basquiat’s shapes at far left occupy a visual zone of their own, one dominated by a dark chromatic scale and full of his signature tribal elements and primitivist imagery. Donning an iridescent green fedora, the figure at the upper left is suspended within a realm of its own, almost surveying the madness below and to the right of him. His skin a deep sepia, with eyes ablaze in orange to match the tone of his hat, he is clearly a fashionable patriarch, the two matching slashes of orange below him demonstrating his vocal power. His authority, however appears muted by the comic scene below him, where a goat carved out in stencil rests upon a neutral space, black and grey, with only a single crimson window to give us a glimpse into its heated interior. These familiar figures have their roots in both artists’ influences. While Warhol had long since dealt with graven images, from his Disaster paintings and Car Crashes to his silkscreened Skulls, Basquiat’s own inspiration for including a goat may come from Picasso, whose The She Goat, 1950 occupies a similar type of tribal reference—a way to look back upon history through agriculture and farming. In addition, in paintings such as Glenn, 1984, we find a contemporaneous example of Basquiat tackling the nature of cultural anxiety, as his figure vomits forth relics of the past.As we move toward the center third of the painting, Warhol’s imagery takes the reigns, clashing with Basquiat’s figures in a war of attention and position. We find the authenticity of cultural heritage at left transformed to a battle of commerce transition. “50% OFF,” silkscreened with imposing boldness of both typeface and black color, sits at an angle, contrasting with the measured figures at left. In addition, we find Warhol’s sprawling hand dominating the background, as if to say that the replicable forces of modern advertising will overcome the finite representatives of figurative tradition. Sketches of sparkling eyes fashioned from the pages of Sears chase down Basquiat’s retreating figures, screaming battalions of ritualistic energy. Each of these two figures in the center of the painting are frequent motifs of Basquiat’s, holes for eyes and gnashing teeth revealing an fierce intensity within. But here their sepia skin and frocks are doused in the same crimson of the square form to the left, ablaze as they succumb to the commerce behind them. As if to add injury to insult, the “Zenith” slogan that lends its name to the title of the collaboration transforms from swanky branding into a weapon of commodification, shocking the minions of tradition with its lethal electric “Z.” This battle rages, but not for long, as we approach the final right third of the painting. Here, we find the outcome of an apocalyptic cultural war—the final judgment of the meeting of tradition and modernity. Eviscerating the visual power of all the figures around it, Warhol’s enormous skull and crossbones is the symbol of death itself. Painted with an exacting hand, this enormous sign of impending danger is painstakingly rendered by Warhol, each powerful line of pitch black unique in its startling reality. Within the mouth of death, teeth glow ominously orange from Basquiat’s singular modification, eerily suggesting the ingestion of the patriarchal figures to the left. Finally, in a blazing show of hubris, we find a final figure below the skull-and-crossbones zooming off in a gorgeous display of reckless abandon: a mint-green convertible, complete with purple hubcaps, blazing orange headlights, piloted by an anonymous figure, his facial details obscured. In full scope, the picture invites an obvious comparison to Picasso’s Guernica, 1937. Though bereft of a single reference in the socio-political spectrum in the way that Picasso’s own masterpiece is, the present lot embodies prescience in it’s own sprawling way. Picasso’s enormous spectrum of real-world pain and death is material in its portrayal, while Basquiat and Warhol bring to light a separate eternal battle. We find a demonstrable similarity in the figure of the goat, biblically charged as a sign of the devil, crying out among the destruction of Picasso’s village and also foreshadowing the transformation in Basquiat and Warhol’s work. These two paintings speak to an even larger theme than the political, functioning as a parable concerning the consequences of economic imperatives. While Picasso’s piece touted the fascist bombing of small village, in keeping with the overly commodified government of Nationalist Spain, Basquiat and Warhol state their parable in a more abstract sense, their cautionary tale centering around a culture obsessed with materiality but blind to its own cultural self-extinction. Aside from the similarity to Picasso’s portrait of destruction, we find both Basquiat and Warhol revisiting their own themes of mortality. Along with finding a youthful exuberance in his work during his collaborations with Basquiat, he also rediscovered his predilection for death. Warhol’s early car crash paintings and Disaster works jump out at us as ghosts in the present lot, the dominant skull-and-crossbones reminding us of his early forays into themes of brutality. In addition, the logical leap from the skull-and-crossbones to Warhol’s own treasured use of the fright wig is not far; he had already used this manufactured visage of comic terror to exemplify his preoccupation with death.This revisitation of earlier themes is a constant in Warhol’s work, and he was apt to investigate his earliest visual influences as he collaborated with a much younger artist on a final product: “There are so many associations and insights that this commercial portrait of America is likely to be more truly understood by future generations…it makes sense for a mature artist to return to the subject of his early business life, advertising, and record how it has been influenced by a developing culture and in turn influences its development as well.”(R. Feldman, “The Underlying Subject of Advertising”, The Andy Warhol Show, Rome, 2004, p. 52) In a way, Warhol was using this collaboration as a way to seek out the ad-man still inside, one who was constantly investigating the meaning of commodities in this new world. Basquiat’s own spectres of death from the past were equally concerned with the status of our shared humanity in an age of commerce. We see in Basquiat’s central figures a muted self-portrait, one where he flees the forces of assimilation “Basquiat’s “icons”, especially the more complex ones, seem improvised and spontaneous, as you would expect of an invocation, or of graffiti. The many works in this “icon” category have a familiar ritual function, not unlike the West African sculptures and masks that Basquiat collected when he traveled there, the functional Vodoun and Santeria figures of his Caribbean roots that descended from them, or Western religious icons and statuettes meant to embody a given saint or represent Jesus Christ.”(M. Mayer, “Basquiat in History”, Basquiat, New York, 2005, p. 51) Even a figure associated with Basquiat bears a wealth of culture, an embodiment of the identity struggle for liberation and freedom. These constant callbacks to tradition make for a unique depth in Basquiat’s work, and one that Warhol never had the privilege of dissecting; namely that of the disenfranchised creative. While Warhol’s subjects addressed an entire universe of modern complexities, only Basquiat’s could use his personal experience to imbue a deeper level of soul into his paintings.As the private collaborations between Warhol and Basquiat came to their own zenith in the fall of 1985, it became clear that their together would be fleeting. Warhol began to suspect Basquiat’s distance beginning even three months prior to the show: “Called Jean Michel but he hasn’t called me back, I guess he’s slowly breaking away. He used to call me all the time from wherever he was,” he wrote on Friday June 21, 1985. (The Andy Warhol Diaries, Ed. P. Hackett, New York, 1989, p. 657) As the weeks passed by, Warhol’s suspicion turned to anxiety, as his concern grew for Basquiat’s unreadiness for a cool reception by the public. His diary on Wednesday, September 12 states: “Jean Michel called and I’m just holding my breath for the big fight he’ll pick with me before the show of our collaboration paintings at the Shafrazi Gallery.” (The Andy Warhol Diaries, Ed. P. Hackett, New York, 1989, p. 676) Following their professional falling-out, their personal relationship also diminished, as Basquiat’s drug use increased and Warhol’s health problems continued to plague him until his death a year and a half later in February 1987. While misunderstood by the wealth of critics at the time, the paintings of Basquiat and Warhol have come to embody the most exciting experimentation in Pop and Neo-Expressionist collaboration: while each hand remains separate and distinct—Warhol in his silkscreen prowess and Basquiat in his hand-drawn energy and motifs—the symbiotic relationship cannot be denied. Basquiat’s work begets a smooth beauty unseen in his other work, while the power of Warhol’s iconic status skyrockets to a marvelous metaphorical end.As a quintessential collaboration between the two, Zenith, 1985 is an unrivalled masterwork. On it, we find a battle of style and culture, of the past and the future: a portrait of the unending visual war between two painters who had opposite approaches and opposing demeanors, the latter of which ultimately spelled their demise as compatriots. The most compelling narrative told by the canvas remains: two friends, each alone at the summit of their genius, chose for a brief period to lend each other the summation of their artistic power.

title

Zenith

medium

Acrylic on canvas

creator

Jean-Michel Basquiat and Andy Warhol

condition

We are grateful to Nicolas Boissonnas for providing the following condition report: This work is in very good condition. This work is comprised of oil paint, silkscreen, and acrylic paint on canvas. There are slight planar deformations and smudges along the edges of the canvas, as well as some gentle creasing.

exhibited

Paris, Didier Imbert Fine Art, Warhol – Basquiat, September 29 – November 25, 1989Kassel, Museum Fridericianum, Collaboration – Warhol, Basquiat, Clemente, February 4 – May 5, 1996, then traveled to Munich, Museum Villa Stuck (July 25 – September 29, 1996)Torino, Castello di Rivoli, Museo d’Arte Contemporanea, Collaboration – Warhol, Basquiat, Clemente, October 17, 1996 – January 1, 1997 Wolfsburg, Kunstmuseum Wolfsburg, Andy Warhol: A Factory, October 2, 1998 – January 10, 1999, then traveled to Brussels, Palais des Beaux-Arts (May 31, 1999 – September 19, 1999), Bilbao, Guggenheim Museum (October 18, 1999 – April 30, 2000)Madrid, Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofía, Warhol, Basquiat, Clemente – Obras en Colaboración, February 5 – April 29, 2002 Milan, Fondazione La Triennale di Milano, The Andy Warhol Show, September 22, 2004 – January 8, 2005Zurich, Galerie Bruno Bischofberger, Skulls, December 3, 2005 – February 18, 2006

dimensions

116 7/8 x 264 7/8 in. (297 x 673 cm.)

literature

D. Imbert, G. Müller, K. Haring, Warhol – Basquiat. Collaborations, Didier Imbert Fine Art, Paris, 1989, no. 7 (illustrated)T. Osterwold, T. Fairbrother, Collaborations – Warhol, Basquiat, Clemente, Cantz, Ostfildern, 1996, pp. 130-131 (illustrated)T. Osterwold, T. Fairbrother, K. Haring, Collaborations – Warhol, Basquiat, Clemente, Cantz, Ostfildern, 1996, pp. 70-71 (illustrated)Collaboration – Warhol, Basquiat, Clemente, exh. cat., Museo d’Arte Contemporanea, Torino, Castello di Rivoli, 1997, p. 130-131 (illustrated) G. Celant, Andy Warhol: A Factory, Kunstmuseum Wolfsburg, Ostfildern, 1998, no. 562 (illustrated)J. Weinberg, Ambition and Love in Modern American Art, New Haven: Yale University Press, 2001, p. 228 (illustrated) J. Bonet, R. Marshall, E. Juncosa, Warhol, Basquiat, Clemente – Obras en Colaboración, Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofía / Aldeasa, Madrid, 2002, pp. 58-59 (illustrated)G. Mercurio, D. Morera, The Andy Warhol Show, Milan: Skira Editore, 2004, p. 286, no. 212 (illustrated)R. Diez, ARTE, Mensile di Arte, Cultura, Informazione: Jean Michel Basquiat, Milan: Editoriale Giorgio Mondadori S.p.A., 2005, p. 101 (illustrated)D. Hickey, Andy Warhol 'Giant' Size, Phaidon: New York, 2006, p. 559 (illustrated)A. Zanchetta, Frenologia della vanitas – il teschio nelle arti visive, Milan: Johan & Levi Editore, 2011, p. 300 (illustrated)

provenance

Galerie Bruno Bischofberger, Zurich Private Collection


*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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