Whitehot Magazine

Warhol and Basquiat: To be Reunited in the East Village at the Brant Foundation

Jean-Michel Basquiat and Andy Warhol collaboration, Untitled, 1984.

By J. SCOTT ORR September 18, 2023

Contemporary art icons Jean-Michel Basquiat and Andy Warhol will be reunited in the East Village on Nov. 1 in a show that can safely be expected to draw better reviews than their first downtown show together in 1985.

The Brant Foundation, which mined the collection of its founder mega-collector Peter M. Brant for highly successful solo shows by each artist at its East Village location over the past several years, will host a reprise of the show Basquiat x Warhol Nov. 1 through Jan. 7.

The show, which gained positive reviews during its spring run at Fondation Louis Vuitton in Paris, is curated by Dieter Buchhart in collaboration with Anna Karina Hofbauer. Both curators are recognized Basquiat historians, collaborating on the 2019 book Basquiat By Himself and other projects.

The Paris version of the show featured 70 collaborative canvases and more than 200 other related works and documents, but the Fondation Louis Vuitton, with more than 40,000 square-feet of gallery space, is far larger than Brant’s converted power station on East 6th Street, which has but 7,000 square feet.

The 1985 show featured just 16 of the hundreds of pieces Warhol and Basquiat made during the previous few years, but bombed amid merciless criticism. It would be difficult to envision a review worse than that penned by New York Times critic Vivien Raynor, who portrayed the collaboration as manipulative puppeteering by Warhol.

LAST year, I wrote of Jean-Michel Basquiat that he had a chance of becoming a very good painter providing he didn't succumb to the forces that would make him an art world mascot. This year, it appears that those forces have prevailed, for Basquiat is now onstage at the Tony Shafrazi Gallery at 163 Mercer Street, doing a pas de deux with Andy Warhol,” Raynor wrote in opening the piece.

“The collaboration,” she continued “looks like one of Warhol's manipulations, which increasingly seem based on the Mencken theory about nobody going broke underestimating the public's intelligence. Basquiat, meanwhile, comes across as the all too willing accessory.”

Raynor’s words are said to have traumatized the young Basquiat, ending his collaboration with Warhol and deeply wounding their friendship. The show succeeded in at least one respect, it spawned photographer Michael Halsband’s iconic photographs of the artists in boxing gloves and trunk as if about to spar. 

But a lot has happened since then, including, of course, the deaths of the artists 18 months apart in 1986 and 1987.

Today, the two are recognized as among the preeminent artists of the later 20th Century. Works by both have sold for more than $100 million in recent years, making them among the biggest money makers in art history. Their relationship has been the subject of debate and speculation over the years, including in a Broadway production called The Collaboration that closed quickly earlier this year.

Their work together has so far failed to attract the kind of money paid for their most famous individual works. One collaborative sold for $11.4 million in 2014 at Phillips. Last year, GE/Skull (1984–85) sold for $4.6 million and ½ Keep Frozen (1984–85) went for $3 million at Christie’s.

One person who knows the facts about the collaboration is gallerist Bruno Bischofberger who brought the artists together in 1982. Earlier this year, Bischofberger told Artnet News that the collaboration “was based on an interest in art history and deep knowledge of it, pure interest in the artists and their work, and in experiencing what new comes out of a collaboration between three artists of completely different characters, natures, and approaches, living in the same city and society and being friends.

During that first meeting at Warhol’s factory, Bischofberger took a polaroid of Warhol and Basquiat together. Basquiat took the photo with him and his assistant returned a few hours later with a newly minted double portrait of the pair called Dos Cabezas...

Dos Cabezas, a 1982 painting by Jean-Michel Basquiat of himself with Andy Warhol.

In 1984, Warhol and Basquat worked together ceaselessly, melding the respective iconographies: Warhol’s screen-printed advertisements and cultural symbols are effaced by Basquiat’s iconic figures and signs; newspaper headlines included by Warhol are obscured and rewritten by Basquiat; scenes painted in Basquiat’s conceptual Neo-Expressionist style are joined by Warhol’s precise appropriations of brand logos. 

“Andy would start one [painting] and put something very recognizable on it, or a product logo, and I would sort of deface it. Then I would try to get him to work some more on it, I would try to get him to do at least two things,” Basquat said.

“I drew it first and then I painted it like Jean-Michel,” said Warhol. “I think those paintings we’re doing together are better when you can’t tell who did which parts.”

Buchhard, one of the show’s curators, said Warhol and Basquiat “came together and opened new ideas and spaces of thought that mirror both our present time as well as the past and future. The results are brilliant artworks that continue to have an impact in our own time as they appear to address pressing and highly relevant contemporary topics such as racism and consumerism. 

“Their collaboration was a unique project and probably one of the greatest and most enduring in all of art history,” he said.

Buchhart is one of the world’s foremost experts on Basquiat, having curated shows of his art at the Fondation Beyeler in Basel and the Musée d’Art Moderne de Paris. He is also a conceptual artist in his own right, but he told Whitehot Magazine in 2016 that his work is inspired more by science than by individual artists

“I studied blood cell tumors and biochemistry and genetics, molecular biology. Although I curated Basquiat and Munch among others, I'm not an artist who is influenced by them in my art practice,” he said. WM


Scott Orr

Scott Orr is a career writer, editor and a recovering political journalist. He is publisher of the East Village art magazine B Scene Zine. He can be reached via @bscenezine, bscenezine.com, or bscenezine@gmail.com.

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