The big art news this week was a record sale for one of Jean-Michel Basquiat’s paintings. Right after reading about that, I saw this tweet by Will Black: “Painting by street artist Basquiat, who lived in a cardboard box, sells for $110.5m in New York. Value PEOPLE while they are ALIVE”.
A few thoughts on that tweet. First, while Basquiat may have been poor starting out, by the time he died too young at the age of 27, he had a net worth of $10 million dollars. Second, that transition from poverty and obscurity to wealth and fame was fast. We should value people while they are alive, but there are better people to use as an example than Jean-Michel Basquiat.
As for my own thoughts, I have always loved Basquiat’s paintings since the 80s. Their greatness was there from the beginning. If we knew nothing else about the artist than his work, we would still think he was great.
But Basquiat was not just a painter: he was more like a rock star. Like Keith Haring, he had a public persona more akin to music superstars much in the same way that Andy Warhol did. It’s no surprise that Basquiat was influenced by Warhol in more ways than one. And now, at least in the world of the art market, he has surpassed Warhol. It’s good to see that too. For many reasons.
Jean-Michel Basquiat had something else that was great, and that was his sense of style. There’s a good piece in Dazed on the importance of clothing to him. They correctly note that:
Jean-Michel Basquiat was a fashionable man. He walked the Comme des Garçons runway for their SS87 collection and favoured the long, slim cut, slightly militaristic jackets of Issey Miyake. Biographers and friends recall the stories of Basquiat setting up tabs at his favorite clothing boutiques, trading canvasses for clothes.
Jean-Michel Basquiat was a legend for his time, and a star. It’s good to see that star is getting brighter.
For more on his fashion, see: The meaning and magic of Basquiat’s clothes | Dazed. It’s a strong piece.