The Relationship Between Andy Warhol and Jean-Michel Basquiat
The defining artistic partnership of the 1980s: the king of Pop Art, Andy Warhol, and his protégé Jean-Michel Basquiat’s relationship has gone down in art history as one of the most striking — and short-lived — of the contemporary era.
In this article, we take a deeper look at the story behind the pair’s friendship, some of the work it produced, and its unfortunate and untimely end in 1986.
Who Was Basquiat When He Met Warhol?
Famed for using symbols, including skulls, crowns and masks, and his expressive, large-scale interpretations of Black American life, artist Jean-Michel Basquiat began his career as a humble graffiti writer.
Working with his friend and collaborator Al Diaz, Basquiat coined the tag SAMO in the late 1970s. SAMO stands for the phrase “same old shit.” The tag underwent a totemic ascent, quickly becoming a commonplace feature of Manhattan’s gritty streets and commanding the attention of American artist Keith Haring.
How Did Basquiat and Andy Warhol Meet?
In 1979, Basquiat spotted Warhol dining at the W.P.A. restaurant on Manhattan’s Spring Street with friend and curator Henry Geldzahler. Introducing himself as a budding artist, Geldzahler dismissed Basquiat as too young. Warhol ignored his colleague, buying one of the artist’s postcards for $1.
The following year in 1980, Basquiat abandoned graffiti in favor of a more traditional artistic approach. In the words of art dealer and curator Jeffrey Deitch, the young Basquiat became the most esteemed young artist on the international art scene during this period.
In October 1982, Basquiat visited The Factory – Warhol’s studio-turned-nightclub in Manhattan.
Formally introducing Basquiat to Warhol, Swiss art agent Bruno Bischofberger later arranged for the pair to have lunch. They hit it off instantly. By the mid-80s, Basquiat’s home and studio was a SoHo Manhattan loft owned by Warhol, who had become his patron.
What Artwork Did Basquiat and Andy Warhol Make Together?
When Basquiat and Warhol had their first proper meeting over lunch in October 1982, Warhol took a self-portrait of the pair with his Polaroid camera.
So the story goes, just two hours later, Basquiat sent Warhol a double-portrait of the duo together, made after the photograph. It was entitled Dos Cabezas (1982), or “two heads.”
In 1982, Warhol completed Jean-Michel Basquiat, a work that combines a screen-printed portrait of the named artist and one of Warhol’s so-called “piss paintings” — works created by combining urine and copper-based paint. A dramatic union of Pop Art and Abstract Expressionism, the piece parodied the creative process of Jackson Pollock, the foremost Abstract Expressionist painter of the era.
Later, at the suggestion of Bischofberger, Warhol and Basquiat began working together.
Arm And Hammer II (1984) is one of the most well-known products of Warhol and Basquiat’s collaboration. Fusing an American consumer icon — the Arm and Hammer baking soda logo — with Basquiat’s signature style and artistic engagement with Black culture (this time in the form of Jazz legend Charlie Parker), it’s a testament to the strength of the pair’s personal and working relationship.
Untitled (General Electric II) is also the fruit of Warhol and Basquiat’s association. In this work, Warhol’s bold, hard-edged rendition of a consumer logo is, much like the artist himself, reinvigorated by Basquiat’s effervescent, dynamic personality, visible in his loose, painterly style.
It’s important to remember that by the early 1980s, Warhol was regarded by some as a has-been; here, thanks to Basquiat, he was plunged back into the limelight once again.
An Unlikely Pair?
Warhol and Basquiat came from very different personal and artistic backgrounds.
Warhol was from Pittsburgh and was the so-called “father” of Pop Art: a movement that had begun in the 1960s and which, by the 1980s, was beginning to wane. Basquiat, by contrast, was born in Brooklyn, New York to Haitian and Puerto-Rican parents; he was also the wünderkind of Post Abstract Expressionism, an exciting new movement penned as a rival to Pop Art by many.
Despite their differences, however, the pair enormously impacted each other, working to both challenges and expand their artistic output and birthing newfound modes of expression.
For example, Basquiat convinced Warhol to take up freehand painting again; conversely, Basquiat started experimenting with silkscreen screen printing — a medium for which Warhol was world-famous — for the first time.
Basquiat and Warhol both courted criticism for their collaborations. Although charged with propping each other up, the pair worked on an even footing, allowing creative decisions to be made spontaneously in the studio.
How Long Were Basquiat and Andy Warhol Friends?
Sadly, the breakdown of their relationship came quickly and drastically.
In Michael Halsband’s world-famous photograph, Andy Warhol and Jean-Michel Basquiat (1985), the playful competitiveness that characterized the duo and their co-creations come to light, reminding us that each artist was the perfect match for the other.
This image was featured on the exhibition poster for Andy Warhol and Jean-Michel Basquiat, a gallery show held at the Tony Shafrazi Gallery in 1985.
Unfortunately, while being one of the significant art events of the 1980s, this gallery show would be the pair’s last.
The critical reaction to the show was poor, with Basquiat being called Warhol’s “mascot” in a New York Times article. Despite harsh reviews, Warhol became Basquiat’s landlord; Basquiat, a heroin user, began taking drugs heavily.
It became an embarrassment for the pair to then even be seen together. Basquiat soon stopped calling Warhol, and the team ceased collaborating. Unfortunately, their relationship never really recovered. In 1987, Warhol died suddenly; Basquiat died a year later, in 1988, from a heroin overdose.
Were They More Than Friends?
Rumors of physical intimacy between Warhol and Basquiat have been tossed aside by friends and family.
A notorious gay icon, Andy can be seen flirting with Basquiat in rare footage from the 80s, and it’s clear the pair had a connection.
Even so, Basquiat had countless girlfriends — including Madonna — during his friendship with Warhol.
Though many rumors stirred about their physical relationship, it has never been confirmed that Andy and Basquiat had anything more than a strong artistic friendship.
Basquiat and Warhol Today
The whirlwind relationship between Warhol and Basquiat has inspired exhibitions, films, and as of 2022, even a play.
In 1996, artist Julian Schnabel co-wrote a feature-length biographical drama film, Basquiat. Featuring Jeffrey Wright (as Basquiat), David Bowie (as Warhol), Dennis Hopper, Christopher Walken and Gary Oldman, the film was a critical success.
In 2021, a new exhibition entitled Warhol and Basquiat in Focus: Works from the Permanent Collection opened at the Andy Warhol Museum, a collection located in the artist’s hometown of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.
This year, in 2022, the pair are the subject of a new stage play by writer Anthony McCarten, entitled The Collaboration. You can see it at London’s Young Vic Theatre.
Who Owns the Basquiat Warhol Paintings?
While many Basquiat x Warhol collaborative paintings are in private possession, the artwork generated by their collaboration that was most recently in the spotlight is Warhol’s Jean-Michel Basquiat portrait.
The portrait was put up for sale at auction at Christie’s in 2021.
The lot was the most expensive of the sale and beat auction houses’ estimates by nearly $15,000,000. A collector of both artists, the consigner Peter Brant, will not have been disappointed with the final hammer price: $34,700,000.
It’s not known who purchased the painting.
Invest In Andy and Basquiat
For those that can’t seem to afford the price of their collaborative work, but are fans of the Pop Art duo, one can invest through fractional shares of an Andy Warhol or Jean Michel Basquiat painting with Masterworks.
Through Masterworks, you can easily invest in contemporary art valued at a few hundred thousand to tens of millions of dollars created by some of the world’s most celebrated artists.
How it Works
- The team of researchers uses proprietary data to identify which artist markets may have momentum.
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