May 16, 2013

Irony alert: $48.8 mil for a Basquiat painting


From Huffington Post:
NEW YORK — A Jean-Michel Basquiat (zhahn mee-SHEHL' BAH'-skee-aht) painting has set a new auction record for the graffiti artist at a sale of postwar and contemporary art in New York. 
Christie's says "Dustheads" sold for $48.8 million on Wednesday.

Mandelbrot Set hairdo
From Wikipedia:
Jean-Michel Basquiat (December 22, 1960 – August 12, 1988) was an American artist.[1] He began as an obscure graffiti artist in New York City in the late 1970s and evolved into an acclaimed Neo-expressionist and Primitivist painter by the 1980s. 
Throughout his career Basquiat focused on "suggestive dichotomies," such as wealth versus poverty, integration versus segregation, and inner versus outer experience.[2] Basquiat's art utilized a synergy of appropriation, poetry, drawing and painting, which married text and image, abstraction and figuration, and historical information mixed with contemporary critique.[3] 
Utilizing social commentary as a "springboard to deeper truths about the individual",[2] Basquiat's paintings also attacked power structures and systems of racism, while his poetics were acutely political and direct in their criticism of colonialism and support for class struggle.[3] ...

Considering that some plutocrat has $48.8 million to spend on what looks like a colorized drawing from Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, I'd say the class struggle has been won. As Paul McCartney and Stevie Wonder sang:
Plutocracy and Diversity
Live together in perfect harmony

P.S. One under-reported aspect of art fame is the advantage of being gay for pay, like the bisexual Basquiat, who had been a teenage hustler. For example, Paul Johnson's description of how the heterosexually oriented Picasso had boosted his career by obliging gay critics, collectors, and dealers is eye-opening.

It's a who-you-know business. I remember going to see a spectacular exhibit of Rene Magritte surrealist paintings in 1976 in a Quonset hut in the parking lot of the Rice football stadium. Nobody was there. Magritte was a Belgian commercial illustrator in Brussels who was beloved by commercial artists in the advertising industry. For example, in 1973, Sports Illustrated's preview of the U.S. Open golf tournament at Oakmont consisted of Donald Moss's paintings of Oakmont's famous sand traps in the style of Magritte:
But the provincial Magritte didn't fit into the Narrative of high art history easily, so he had this curious kind of non-museum fame in the 1970s.

Two decades later, though, I paid to hear a packed lecture on Magritte at the Art Institute of Chicago before seeing a sold out exhibit of pretty much the same Magritte paintings. I asked the art historian after her lecture, if, considering how lightly regarded Magritte was back as recently as the 1970s, someday the Art Institute would host a giant M.C. Escher exhibit? She was taken aback, then replied that recent scholarship established that Magritte had spent 1927-1930 in Paris hanging out with famous painters who influenced him. Then she stopped. Finally, she said, "I don't want to make it sound like art history is all about who you know ..." Then she stopped again with an alarmed look on her face.

The point is that discovery of Magritte's Paris interlude made it easier for critics to plug Magritte into the Narrative. I can understand the appeal of that. I like narratives of cause and effect, of who influenced whom.

Basquiat plugs in very easily: Andy Warhol was infatuated with Basquiat.

That doesn't mean Basquiat was talentless. He was no doubt far better at painting Ralph Steadman-style pictures than anybody else plugged into Warhold World, and maybe better than Steadman. Almost everybody who becomes famous is quite good at what they do. But, there's a lot of talent in this world.

52 comments:

Anonymous said...

basquait-case

Anonymous said...

It was who/whom and where/whence of art. Basquait was in the right place, NY, and met the right kind of people, Warhol. He entered the right kind of crowd, and so his 'art' become something to celebrate.

I guess his death added to his mystique as a kind of Bob Marley of art. But Marley had real talent. I look at Basquait stuff and wanna puke.

Anonymous said...

I'd prefer a fleet of 150 Mazurati's to this Kindergarten daub.

Anonymous said...

Flynn Defect

Thursday said...

I disagree with those who would completely dismiss Basquiat. He's not a personal favourite, but he more or less deserves his fame.

Anonymous said...

Thursday said...
I disagree with those who would completely dismiss Basquiat. He's not a personal favourite, but he more or less deserves his fame.


I don't know anything about art and I've never heard of the dude, but the figure on the right in his painting absolutely mesmerizes me. I could stare at it for a long time, while the Steadman thing doesn't grab me at all.

Affirmative Action hacks abound (not least of all in high elected and appointed offices), but this guy does have something going on.

Anonymous said...

http://ayay.co.uk/backgrounds/paintings/pablo_picasso/woman-asleep-in-an-armchair-the-dream-1932.jpg

Picasso was brilliant. Just look at the visual pun with the face. In one way, it looks like it's facing us. In another way, it looks like a profile with the upper part of the face resembling a penis in her dream.

Playful and fun. I loved him since a child.

Anonymous said...

From time to time, I amuse by self by imagining that the world follows action movie logic. In this case, the most likely explanation for the 50 million dollar price is that the painting contains a computer chip that holds blueprints for some sort of wonder technology. Said miraculous technology was developed by Mr. Basquiat himself, and hidden in the painting before he faked his own death in order to evade the old White evildoers that wanted to use his work for nefarious purposes.

The salient question here is wether or not the buyer is one of the bad guys. I hope the buyer is just a cutout for a former research partner gone rogue. If so, Basquiat will need to emerge from his Macallan fueled retirement in Pattaya, as he is the only man with the guts and the grey matter to defeat his old friend. A final confrontation on the Mongolian steppe would really brighten my day, but I would settle for a shootout in Monaco or a running knife fight across the skyline of a medieval trading city.

-The Judean People's Front

Anonymous said...

The art market went from the pricing of valuable art to the art of valuable pricing.

When Van Gogh's art sold for millions, we could see why? But then came Warhol. A shamelessly cynical operator, he made marketing and hype the very essence of art.
So, it misses the point to discuss the merits of Basquiat's art. What really matter are the connections that link Basquiat to the celebrities and shakers of the art world. The buyer didn't pay the price for the art work but for the price which itself is the 'art'.

It's the corruption of art and money itself. But then wasn't more than a billion pumped into obama the messiah?

Anonymous said...

From Jazz music to Spazz art.

Anonymous said...

http://www.washingtontimes.com/news/2013/may/15/nigeria-busts-another-baby-factory-saves-6-pregnan/

For a much cheaper price, you can buy your own basquiat baby.

Anonymous said...

http://www.newcriterion.com/posts.cfm/Kevin-D--Williamson--Theatergoers--hero-7133

Social space and private space merging. At home, we are hooked to the world via internet, and outside, we still think we are hooked to home.

Auntie Analogue said...


Another example of the decline and of the imminence of the fall of the West.

“For when we cease to worship God, we do not worship nothing, we worship anything.” - G.K. Chesterton

Baloo said...

Can Bastiat explain Basquiat? Some of it does have a "broken window" sensibility.

Anonymous said...

I am not surprised that Picasso had some affairs with men. However there was no shortage of gay men or men of other orientations in Paris, so why did all of those art critics want to have sex with Picasso? Because of the same charisma that made him so attractive to women? Because he was a phenomenally talented artist? Both? There are lots of promiscuous bisexuals in the art and entertainment worlds, but very few of them attain Picasso's eminence. He earned it with his prodigious work ethic and talent.

Gloria

FredR said...

The movie's pretty good. Directed by Julian Schnabel, a famous painter in his own right,

Steve Sailer said...

There a hilarious scene where Andy Warhol (played by David Bowie) gets into an argument over which state Fort Lee is in. Even though he's right about Fort Lee being in New Jersey, Andy loses the argument to an elderly couple who resemble George Costanza's parents.

Anonymous said...

In fairness to Basquait, I've see a lot worse. See, for example, Rothko.

Unfortunately, in comparison to say, Vermeer, his work is shit.

I'd call this a celebration of the mediocre, rather than the talentless.

David said...

>Then she stopped again with an alarmed look on her face.<

LOL.

This is as good a chance as any for me to dust off one of my favorites again.

Gore Vidal said, "Andy Warhol is the only genius I've ever known with an I.Q. of 60."

Dahlia said...

An art story:

Over five years ago, we often had a family membership for the Ringling Museum in Sarasota, and my memory is that we got to see the traveling exhibits for free of which they had three or four a year. In any event, we got to enjoy many exhibits.

One day I took my kids to see the museum and noticed the new exhibit which was devoted to modern photography. It really didn't look that interesting, but since it was free, why not?

The guard, me, and my kids. That was it. I had never seen an exhibit so poorly attended. It wasn't great, but it looked *important*. We were there for about 5-10 minutes when I noticed an artist's name for some artwork: Robert Mapplethorpe. Hmmm, who is he? I've heard that name, but can't quite place him... OH NO!!! I don't think I've ever pushed a stroller as fast before or since.

Fwiw, my favorite modern artist is Wayne Thiebaud.

Anonymous said...

I find it surprising that, despite being a gay Haitian-American in the 80's, he didn't die of AIDS (he died due to a Heroin overdose).

Harry Baldwin said...

It's a who-you-know business.

Who you know and who you blow.

"Andy Warhol is the only genius I've ever known with an I.Q. of 60."

I can't accept that Warhol was unintelligent. His book "The Philosophy of Andy Warhol (From A to B and Back Again)" is interesting and his insights into fame and celebrity culture have stuck with me.

His portraits, multiple silk-screened images with garish colors, had considerable influence on graphic arts.

Robert Frank's "Richistan: A Journey Through the American Wealth Boom and the Lives of the New Rich" talks about the art-buying strategies of the super rich. Basically they'll buy anything if an art consultant assures them it'll be worth more later.

DR said...

"Considering that some plutocrat has $48.8 million to spend on what looks like a colorized drawing from Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, I'd say the class struggle has been won."

Yes everybody knows that crappy art is a consequence of plutocracy and inequality. That's why Renaissance Italy and Bourbon France are well known for producing the ugliest paintings in history.

Whereas the anti-"plutocrat" New Deal WPA art programs produced cherished and magnificent works that will easily stand for centuries.

Aaron Gross said...

"I like narratives of cause and effect, of who influenced whom."

Oh, OK.

Anonymous said...

Gore Vidal said, "Andy Warhol is the only genius I've ever known with an I.Q. of 60."

He was brilliant. And a great businessman. People in my family did some business with him back in the day. Guy was no fool and could play the game...

- Sal

Mr. Anon said...

Visual art has always been more about who you knew and who knew you, than is music.

If, tomorrow, it were revealed that Beethoven's fifth symphony was not written by Beethoven, but rather by a hither-to unknown Viennese cellist, named Fritz Dunkelpferd, that piece would still be revered and cherished and would hold an honored place in the repertoir. If most modern paintings or sculptures or "installations" were revealed to be the work - not of the talentless hack who purportedly made it - but of some other, unknown talentless hack, their value would collapse. I don't think a Renoir would, as it still has intrinsic value. But modern art is just crap.

FredR said...

'I can't accept that Warhol was unintelligent. His book "The Philosophy of Andy Warhol (From A to B and Back Again)" is interesting and his insights into fame and celebrity culture have stuck with me.'

That's exactly the book that convinced me he was retarded. But then I found out he didn't write it.

FredR said...

"Basically they'll buy anything if an art consultant assures them it'll be worth more later."

Tom Wolfe has a funny scene in Back to Blood about that.

Anonymous said...

The problem with being an artist is that you don't make real money until you're dead.

Kocour said...

Mandelbrot Set hairdo

*slow claps*

Steve Sailer said...

I got the Mandelbrot Set hairdo line from Derb's column in Taki's.

Big Bill said...

"Throughout his career Basquiat focused on "suggestive dichotomies," such as wealth versus poverty, integration versus segregation, and inner versus outer experience.[2] Basquiat's art utilized a synergy of appropriation, poetry, drawing and painting, which married text and image, abstraction and figuration, and historical information mixed with contemporary critique. [blah, blah, blah]"

True story. I was helping set up for a Harvard Law School faculty art show/reception back in the day, and one of Helen Vendler's English grad students was writing the little cards that stuck on the wall next to each "art work" (see e.g. The Painted Word") giving its provenance and significance.

He was sick of the job (the "art work" was Basquiat-level insipid) got all fscked up on cheap wine and started going off on these Alan Sokal-style riffs, writing each card crazier and crazier. I thought he was taking a big chance, since his descriptions were real howlers, but the faculty at the show didn't even notice. They would bend over, read the cards carefully, nod and natter over their plastic cups of cheap wine.

You have to attend the Ivy League to really, truly buy into this crap. Honoring this stuff and nattering on about it at cocktail parties/receptions is a shibboleth of upper class wannabes. [It's also a great way to pick up chicks from the Seven Sisters.]

Thank you, Clement Greenberg, wherever you are. America owes you so, so much.

agnostic said...

Basquiat isn't so totally bad, but there were better painters in the Neo-Expressionist 1980s. I think he got latched onto because of the predictable factors -- knew Andy Warhol, was black, etc.

Sadly, the whole Neo-Expressionist / Neo-Surrealist / Neo-Fauvist moment of the late '70s through the early '90s has been totally forgotten. You don't see it anywhere.

You do see all kinds of dull, insipid, off-putting art from the mid-century because it appeals to cerebral nerds who write and read art history and art criticism books.

Neo-Expressionism and Neo-Etc. brought back figurative painting, bold use of contrasting colors, strong light-dark contrasts, mystery, emotion -- all the things that had been squeezed out during the mid-century.

It provokes a visceral response, and does not have Something To Say (borrrring). As for the original Expressionist movement, you only hear about that because they weave it into a narrative about What It Said about industrial urban capitalism, World War I, or whatever.

Not that there's nothing to that, but it's frightening to think that unless verbal/cerebral nerds can plug your work into a larger chronicle of the history of ideas, your art could easily be passed over and forgotten.

Maybe sometime within the next century, the chroniclers will be able to weave the Neo-Etc. movements into a larger social-political narrative about the way the world seemed to be heading during the late '70s, all of the '80s, and even the early '90s.

It'll make me barf to read the facile connections to The Reagan/Thatcher Oppression, the "greed is good" mentality, maybe the Cold War, and other favorite targets of leftoid critics.

But, at least it would help to preserve an interesting period in the history of art. We desperately need to see and read about it after knowing so much about mid-century junk. It's refreshing and reassuring to see that that blandness and cultivated silliness and superficiality didn't go on forever. It actually turned around, even if it later turned back.

agnostic said...

The best single source I've seen for art circa 1980 is the catalogue of an Neo-Expressionist exhibition, called *Zeitgeist: international art exhibition, Berlin 1982*. The main editor is Christos Joachimides.

So, the exhibition was mostly before the celebrity of Basquiat -- late '70s and early '80s. I don't even remember if he's included or not. Most of the artists continued to work throughout the '80s and into the '90s, but they get to stand out more in the Zeitgeist exhibition because of the lack of celebrity cache before Basquiat.

I included a handful of images from those featured, along with some names, in this post:

http://akinokure.blogspot.com/2011/11/expressionism-emerges-during-waves-of_21.html

I don't recall everyone who's featured, though I recall liking Enzo Cucchi and Helmut Middendorf more than the others.

You can do google image searches of their names, though don't expect to find too much (again, they're more or less lost to memory by now). I'd say try to get that Zeitgeist catalogue from the library. Nice images and great essays to set it in its art historic context, i.e. as turning the tide against all things mid-century.

Or try finding other books from the '80s on what was hot in contemporary art. It's just damn near impossible to find anything on it in current sources. That's too bad: there really was a breath of fresh air in the art world during the Eighties.

Ed said...

"I asked the art historian after her lecture, if, considering how lightly regarded Magritte was back as recently as the 1970s, someday the Art Institute would host a giant M.C. Escher exhibit?"

I attended a show on MC Escher at the Centro Cultural do Banco de Brasil in Rio de Janeiro, which is the main venue for art exhbitions in Rio.

Visiting art museums on South America, particularly in Sao Paolo and Rio, brings an interesting perspective because their plutocrats were either outbid for the top late nineteenth/ early twentieth century artists by US plutocrats, or were interested in different artiets. And for later decades, you get Brazilian artists instead of American artists. So they styles and when they happened are all about the same, but the names are completely different. There is not a big gap, if any, in the quality of the artwork either.

Edemar Cid Ferreira said...

As the owner of this Basqiat's masterpiece, I'm painfully aware it's worth no more than $100.

Podsnap said...

Picasso was brilliant. .....

Playful and fun. I loved him since a child.


I loved Dali and Picasso etc when I was a child... then I grew up.

As some anonymous up the thread said - compared to Vermeer or basically anything before 1850 this stuff is shit.

Sword said...

See the positive in it!

Some plutocrat spent close to 50 Megabucks on this, money which he can not also spend on donating to the war-chests of congressmen.

Now, if we could get them to spend more on useless stuff like this, things might improve.

Matthew said...

"A Jean-Michel Basquiat (zhahn mee-SHEHL' BAH'-skee-aht)"

It's pronounced JOHN MICHELLE BASS-QUEE-OUGHT. Why? Because we're in America, that's why. What are we supposed to do, adopt the pronunciation rules for every other effing Roman alphabet-using language on the planet?

Pronunciation can be complicated enough without that, and names are the worst, since you can't generally look them up in a dictionary and they can vary greatly for even a single name. The entire value of a phonetic alphabet is that it allows you to pronounce a word without having the pronunciation explained to you.

rob said...

Basquiat plugs in very easily: Andy Warhol was infatuated with Basquiat.

I see what you did there.

Podsnap said...

If most modern paintings or sculptures or "installations" were revealed to be the work - not of the talentless hack who purportedly made it - but of some other, unknown talentless hack, their value would collapse.

Right. If the above painting bore the signature of Steven Urkel of suburban Chicago Illinois, rather than the divine Jean-Michel,
then it would be worth about as much as a kick in the ass.

This -
http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/en/d/da/2005_0308_urkel.jpg

v
This -
http://chrislomon.files.wordpress.com/2008/06/basquiat1.jpg

= a difference of approximately $48.8 million.

Auntie Analogue said...


One of my favorite exchanges from 'Brideshead Revisited':


"Charles," said Cordelia, "Modern Art is all bosh, isn’t it?"

"Great bosh."

d said...

Read this, it is a hoot:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Who_the_*$%26%25_Is_Jackson_Pollock%3F

No question the lady owns a Pollack. Science proves it. But the art crowd won't allow it because the owner is a white lady truck driver. If a black woman in Harlem fished it out of a garbage can, they would be writing articles about how it makes up for the legacy of slavery.

Lauryn Hill didn't pay her taxes because of the legacy of slavery,

cthulhu said...

I find Basquiat near-worthless, but don't you be dissing Ralph Steadman! In addition to his inspired collaborations with HST, you should check out the Steadman-illustrated Animal Farm; simply brilliant.

I should note that consider Steadman primarily an illustrator, in the Arnold Roth vein; that doesn't mean his work is not top-notch though.

Svigor said...

That's some ugly shit.

Svigor said...

Yep, that too.

Debate talent all you like. It's ugly shit.

Svigor said...

Not to my taste, but not simply ugly shit, either.

Svigor said...

I look at Basquiat's and Steadman's work, and I think, "I don't want to know this man."

Dahlia said...

Steve,
Mike Judge did a great bit on modern art in King of the Hill. Peggy decides to make sculptures (I think) and the exhibitor, to Peggy's surprise and humiliation, makes Peggy out to be the biggest rube as the hook for her art and it works. I even want to think he said Peggy had come down from the mountain. Hilarious.

Ray Sawhill said...

I second FredR's recommendation of the movie "Basquiat." I think I like it even better than he does. I think the movie does a great job of conveying the topsy-turvy, dream-nightmare quality that the NYC gallery-art world has. It's all very unreal, like a hallucination ... Yup, that's really what it's like. It's very hard for sensible, down-to-earth people to take, but a handful of weirdos and addicts have canny ways of flourishing in it.

Dr Van Nostrand said...


Mike Judge did a great bit on modern art in King of the Hill. Peggy decides to make sculptures (I think) and the exhibitor, to Peggy's surprise and humiliation, makes Peggy out to be the biggest rube as the hook for her art and it works. I even want to think he said Peggy had come down from the mountain. Hilarious."


There was another one where an "artist" somehow gets an X ray of Hanks colon and uses it a part of art exhibit against the capitalist meat industry or some such nonsense.

Hank has him arrested for violating his privacy as he was being led out by the deputy he yells "Arlen will never have an avant garde art exhibit again" to which the deputy responds in his Texas drawl "we'll get baai"

cthulhu said...

For Svigor, let me try it another way...Ralph Steadman is to Basquiat as Edgar Allen Poe is to Saw.