Miami gallery showcases rare photos of street artist Basquiat

An exhibition in Miami next week will display rare images of New York City street artist Jean-Michel Basquiat, whose social explanatory paintings about racism and power structures have skyrocketed in value since his death of a heroin overdose at the age of 27.

“Our Friend Jean” exhibition of digitally enhanced portraits of the artist who died in 1988 begins on November 29 at BLK Miami Studio and concludes with a live auction on December 3 that hopes to fetch large, unspecified sums from collectors.

Alexis Adler, a former friend who took many of the painter’s photos in their 12th Street apartment, said the exhibition is part of an ongoing tour that aims to “share Jean-Michel Basquiat’s legacy and artwork with communities of color and communities that reflect Jean-Michel Basquiat’s cultural heritage.”

“I realize that most museums have not recognized Jeanne’s brilliance…I feel it is my responsibility to share early artwork with my photographs,” Ms. Adler told The Washington Times in an email.

Many of the photos have already been shown at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Denver and the Museum of Contemporary Art in St. Louis, among other galleries.

Ms Adler said she couldn’t predict which digitally enhanced photos would bring in the most money, but said she “hopes one of the works that includes performance art we did together” will be in the apartment.

“These photos especially show a different side of his artistic ability and genius in artistic performances which I have had the honor to document myself,” she said.

In a statement emailed to The Times, The Bishop Gallery speculated that a photo of “Jean watching world events on his TV” inside the apartment fridge as well as “a stunning head shot of him wearing a barrette for his birthday in 1977” were likely thrill collectors.

“We curated a set of photos that take a look at Jean before he became a Basquiat legend,” the gallery statement read in part.

Authentic Basquiat art has become one of the most exciting items in the rising dollar auction world, and the painter’s original photographs, often digitally enhanced, sell for hundreds of dollars to collectors of more modest means.

Rising to fame as a graffiti artist, Basquiat produced about 1,500 drawings and about 600 paintings with sculptures and mixed media works.

At Sotheby’s in May 2017, a 1982 painting “Untitled” depicting a black skull with red and yellow streamers sold for $110.5 million, making it one of the most expensive paintings ever bought at auction.

In May this year, a painting of the artist’s skull sold for $93.1 million at Christie’s in New York, becoming the artist’s second most expensive auction.

The Miami Tour continues the posthumous rehabilitation of the painter, a close associate of Andy Warhol whom art critics initially criticized in his gallery exhibitions as “Warhol’s mascot”.

Michael Lewis, an art historian who covers Basquiat at Williams College, said the original photos of him “as a handsome young man in the prime of his life” were “absolutely stunning”.

“He’s an influential figure with a fantastic following and represents the kind of anti-establishment art of the ’80s,” Mr. Lewis told The Times.

“The irony is that this anti-establishment art is now coveted by museums and galleries that hate it,” he added.

But Mr. Lewis also said he believed Basquiat’s popularity was a “commercial phenomenon” sparked by “the limited supply of Basquiat’s original work”.

“When another generation passes, I think his career will be re-evaluated and it won’t look as huge as it is today,” he said.

The professor noted that while Abstract Expressionism in 1930s paintings sought to keep politics out of art in the era of totalitarianism, “art with an agenda” returned with the Vietnam War and “never left us since.”

What draws people to Basquiat is the legend of a talented artist dying young. “It is impossible to discuss his art apart from his life,” said Mr. Lewis.

Art historian Michael Curtis, an artist-in-residence and research fellow at the National Society for Classically Oriented Civic Arts in Washington, D.C., said the popularity of Basquiat, the black artist whose early work foreshadowed the emergence of hip-hop culture, may also stem in part from his political alignment with left-wing billionaires who They buy high dollar artwork.

Curtis, a former curator and art professor, said Basquiat’s art and photographs represent a “commodity” that will likely lose value over time and change policy again.

“It’s just another game for the rich,” he said.

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