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    Sale 1905

    Post War and Contemporary Art Afternoon Session

    14 November 2007, New York, Rockefeller Plaza

  • Lot 431

    Jean-Michel Basquiat (1960-1988)

    In the Wings

    Price Realised  


    Jean-Michel Basquiat (1960-1988)
    In the Wings
    signed, titled and dated 'Jean-Michel Basquiat "IN THE WINGS" 1986.' (on the overlap)
    acrylic and oilstick on canvas
    59 x 39½ in. (149.9 x 100.3 cm.)
    Executed in 1986.

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    Upon close inspection, the apparently simplistic execution of Jean-Michel Basquiat's oeuvre reveals a profound, sophisticated, deliberate, and deeply layered understanding of the dualistic nature of African American identity.

    Basquiat's stylistic influences are well known and clear. One can see the confident strokes of de Kooning as well as the delicate lyricism of Twombly. He knew the power of Warhol's choice of popular culture icons and his use of multiplicity. He mastered an understanding of William Burroughs' non-linear textual compositions. Basquiat was aware of the Art Brut distillation of form of DuBuffet and the bold compositional innovations in line and color of Picasso. He was influenced by the traditions and conventions of pre-modern cultures such as the Egyptian, Byzantine, African and Native American. All of these influences combine in various proportion to define a stylistic language uniquely Basquiat.

    Examination of the content of Basquiat's paintings unveils reflections of American popular culture predominantly focused on themes of African American identity. This identity can be further broken down into images of heroic cultural figures and symbols of racism. In addition to autobiographical portraits and political figures such as Malcolm X and Marcus Garvey, the largest bodies of work attributable to these themes would certainly be broken into "famous negro athletes" such as Sugar Ray Robinson, Cassius Clay, Jersey Joe Wolcott, Jessie Owens, Jackie Robinson, and Hank Aaron and African American jazz musicians such as Charlie Parker, Dizzie Gillespie, Ben Webster, Duke Ellington, Max Roach, Billie Holliday and Lester Young.

    It is easy to see why Jean-Michel Basquiat had an affinity for Jazz musicians. Jazz is a uniquely American Art form. It can also be said that it is a predominately African American Art form. Be-bop Jazz revolutionized the content of jazz music in the 1950's with a less linear approach that stylistically corresponds to Basquiat's visual aesthetic. In terms of lifestyle, most jazz musicians lived hard lives subject to brutal racism. Their careers were short but brilliant. The be-bop generation, epitomized by the meteoric, truncated career of Charlie Parker, was no stranger to substance abuse. Parker's life in many ways foreshadowed Basquiat's life in terms of fecund creativity and an appetite for self-destruction.

    Like Basquiat himself, each of Jean-Michel's jazz heroes had their own very distinctive voice as well as their own distinctive contribution to their art form. One needs only a few bars of music or less to identify Charlie Parker, Ellington had a classic orchestral elegance, Dizzie Gillespie a staccato bop and Ben Webster a distinctive growl. Lester Young, the subject of the present painting, was unique in many ways beginning with the unorthodox manner in which he positioned his saxophone in a nearly horizontal state as he played. The tone he was able to produce from his horn was of unparalleled sweetness. Young was an innovative member of Count Basie's band in Kansas City in the mid 1930's when they changed the face of Jazz by refining Swing. His sensual tone was the essential accompaniment to Billie Holliday's sultry, lonely phrasing in her best small band recordings. Holliday died tragically after a decent into drugs and alcohol. Young also had seen better days and, plagued by alcoholism, he died in 1959. Parker's substance abuse resulted in failing mental and physical health until his flame was extinguished in 1955.


    Galerie Bruno Bischofberger, Zurich


    E. Navarra, et. al., Jean-Michel Basquiat, Paris 2000, vol. I, pp. 250-251, vol. II, p. 325 (illustrated).


    Málaga, Junta de Andalucia, Jean-Michel Basquiat, 1996, pp. 75-76 (illustrated).
    Kaohslung Museum of Fine Arts and Taichung Museum, Jean-Michel Basquiat, 1997, p. 83 (illustrated).
    Seoul, Gallery Hyundai, Jean-Michel Basquiat, 1997, p. 73 (illustrated).
    Tokyo, Mitsukoshi Museum and Marugame, M.I.M.O.C.A., Jean-Michel Basquiat, 1997, p. 90 (illustrated).
    São Paulo, Pinacoteca, Jean-Michel Basquiat: Pinturas, 1998, p. 87 (illustrated).
    Naples, Castel Nuovo, Jean-Michel Basquiat, 1999, p. 111 (illustrated).