Art Out: Basquiat x Warhol
By Ashley Yu
Parasitic or symbiotic? That has been the question revolving around the unforgettable “bromance” between Jean-Michel Basquiat, the young and beloved wunderkind of the New York 80s’ art scene whom all teenagers in the East Village continue to emulate, and Andy Warhol, the eccentric icon whose name is as inescapable as his Pop Art influence. It is by no means surprising, at least upon retrospect, that these two unstoppable characters came to collide in a fascinating friendship. Now, 40 years after Basquiat first sold Warhol his postcards at a restaurant and the latter became captivated by the mystique of the former, the Jack Shainman Gallery presents “Basquiat x Warhol” at The School, recreating the duo’s transition from their individual trajectories into an infamous partnership, which ended in their mysterious falling-out and sudden deaths.
Having shared the same studio space from 1984-1985, Basquiat and Warhol came to collaborate on eight large-scale paintings, which are all being shown in The School’s central exhibition space. They held an eponymous show at the Shafrazi Art Gallery in 1985, yet contemporary art critics slashed it down, accusing Warhol of leeching off Basquiat’s 19-year-old blood and Basquiat of using Warhol’s fame as stepping stones for his own success. After their failed collaborative exhibition, an art critic for The New York Times described their paintings as looking “like one of Warhol’s manipulations… Basquiat, meanwhile, comes across as the all too willing accessory.” If we are to believe those words, then their pivotal partnership seems to be completely undermined with a much darker, exploitative dynamic--one that almost casts elder Warhol in a predatory light á la Harvey Weinstein.
Yet as you walk through the different sections of The School, each artistic genius’s distinct but inevitable paths to fame and recognition, with or without their friendship, becomes clear in the areas dedicated solely to either Warhol or Basquiat. From Basquiat’s daring “readymade” sculpture of a football helmet sprinkled with his own hair (dare you to auction that on Ebay) to Warhol’s lesser-known, but equally elegant, torso-line drawings, the New York Times art critic, seems increasingly inaccurate and dismissive of this unparalleled collaboration of two brilliant minds on a canvas.
It feels inevitable that these two darlings of the downtown New York art scene would have had what many call “an odd marriage.” Both were preoccupied by their torsos, as a result of their shared lack of a spleen; Basquiat went under the knife as a child, and Warhol survived an assassination attempt in 1968. Both also died suddenly and tragically, which elevated their legacies to the level of mythology—Warhol succumbed to complications of a supposed routine gallbladder surgery, and a year later, overcome by grief, addiction to heroin, and disgusted with the domination of the white man in the art scene, Basquiat overdosed at 27. The “Basquiat x Warhol” exhibition at The School, presented by the Jack Shainman Gallery, presents a conversation between two kindred spirits, revealed both in their compelling artwork and in the eerie parallels between their lives.