Jean-Michel Basquiat (1960-1988)
Jean-Michel Basquiat (1960-1988)

Untitled (Half-Moon)

Jean-Michel Basquiat (1960-1988)
Untitled (Half-Moon)
signed and dated 'Jean 85' (on the reverse)
acrylic and oil on wood
90 1/4 x 44 1/4 in. (229.2 x 112.3 cm.)
Painted in 1985. This work is accompanied by a certificate of authenticity issued by the Authentication Committee of the Estate of Jean-Michel Basquiat.
Galerie Bruno Bischofberger, Zurich
Private collection
J.-L. Prat, Jean-Michel Basquiat, Paris, Galerie Enrico Navarra, 1996, vol. 2, first edition, p. 102, no. 3 (illustrated); second edition, p. 138, no. 3 (illustrated).
J.-L. Prat, et al., Jean-Michel Basquiat, Paris, Galerie Enrico Navarra, 2000, vol. 2, p. 226, no. 3 (illustrated).
Los Angeles, Gagosian Gallery, Jean-Michel Basquiat: Paintings & Drawings, 1980-1988, February-March 1998, no. 36.
Vienna, KunstHausWien, Jean-Michel Basquiat, February-May 1999, p. 82 (illustrated).
Künzelsau, Museum Würth, Jean-Michel Basquiat, October 2001-January 2002, p. 84 (illustrated).
Seoul, Kukje Gallery, Jean-Michel Basquiat, February-March 2013, pp. 38, 77 and 92 (illustrated).
Tel Aviv Museum of Art, WANTED: Selected Works from the Mugrabi Collection, August-December 2013, p. 75 (illustrated).
Tel Aviv Museum of Art, In Conversation: A Selection of Contemporary Artworks, April 2014-August 2015.
Milan, Museo delle Culture, Jean-Michel Basquiat, October 2016-February 2017, p. 108 (illustrated).
Sale room notice
This Lot is Withdrawn.

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Alex Berggruen
Alex Berggruen

Lot Essay

"My subject matters are royalty, heroism, and the streets.” (J. Basquiat, quoted in Jean-Michel Basquiat, Charta, Milan, 1999, p. 80)

Within a semicircular field, an imposing figure stands to attention, his vivid red body surrounded by an inky blackness. On his head he wears a large golden crown, and his hand is raised as if a greeting. The solidity of the upper part of his body is contrasted by the skeletal nature of the lower part of the figure. The flesh appears to have been omitted in order to reveal his rudimentary pelvis and legs. A single organ peaks out from under this muscular cover; perhaps a reference to the spleen that the artist lost in a childhood accident when he was hit by a car outside his Brooklyn home? While hospitalized at King's County Hospital for over a month, his mother gave the budding artist a copy of Grays Anatomy, a resource book used by doctors and artists alike since it was first published in 1858 to aid in the understanding of the human body. Basquiat frequently drew inspiration from phrases, concepts and images he found in textbooks and encyclopedias, and this is especially true of the works dealing with the human anatomy and the book would serve as one of the most significant influences on Basquiat’s artistic lexicon.

The figure presented here, with strong and purposeful brushwork, is not just a skeletal figure; it is a king complete with his regal attire. Along with the boxer, the athlete and a cast of personal idols, the king is one of Basquiat’s most enduring motifs. He began using the crown, paired with the name “samo,” as his signature when he co-opted the doors of art galleries in SoHo as his canvases before his ‘official’ entree into the New York art world. At the time, Basquiat described his subject matter as royalty, heroism and the streets, and as his career progressed these early crowns developed into fully fledged figures, resplendent with gleaming headgear perched high on top of their heads. The present figure seems to have been crowned victorious, having won a battle, with an array of bones beneath his feet as a vestige of the encounter’s carnage. Basquiat's regal warrior is, in part, an emblem of his success, embodying the artist's own feelings of triumph after his meteoric rise to international art world fame. Just as Basquiat, the King of the Streets, had conquered the art world, here too, his warrior has been deemed victorious.

Half Moon is a rare work within in Basquiat’s oeuvre as he painted very few shaped canvases. Following in the tradition of artists like Robert Rauschenberg, Basquiat would often modify traditional canvases with component parts like the wood and jute he used in the 1982 painting One Million Yen. For other works like CPRKR, also from 1982, the artist detached the canvas fabric folded behind the stretcher while keeping it affixed from the front, so that the additional length of canvas was presented unfurled, revealing its raw edges. In 1985, the same year Basquiat made Half Moon, he transformed a circular panel of wood into the painting Nows the Time. Two concentric circles interrupt the expanse of wood painted black, and connote the details of a long-playing vinyl record. The words “Now’s the Time”, the letters “PRKR” and the copyright symbol all indicate that this not just any record Basquiat is depicting, but Charlie Parker’s “Now’s the Time” single from 1945, which features an electrifying jazz saxophone solo. Within Half Moon, Basquiat continues the pictorial logic of Nows The Time, by finding a support that echoes the shape of the object he is presenting: circle for record; semicircle to represent the moon at its first quarter phase, when its left half is held in the earth’s shadow and its right half is illuminated by the sun.

Only on two previous occasions did Basquiat combine the figure of the king with a reference to the moon. A painting and a drawing from 1984 are both titled Famous Moon King, although on these occasions Basquiat omits the all-important crown which confers the regal status on its owner. In his 1981 essay, “The Radiant Child,” one of the earliest profiles on the young Jean-Michel Basquiat, art critic Rene Ricard remembers, “I asked Jean-Michel where he got the crown. ‘Everybody does crowns.’ Yet the crown sits securely on the head of Jean-Michel's repertory so that it is of no importance where he got it bought it stole it; it's his. He won that crown. In one painting there is even a © copyright sign with a date in impossible Roman numerals directly under the crown. We can now say he copyrighted the crown. He is also addicted to the copyright sign itself. Double copyright. So the invention isn't important; it's the patent, the transition from the public sector into the private, the monopolizing personal usurpation of a public utility, of prior art; no matter who owned it before, you own it now” (R. Ricard, “The Radiant Child,” Artforum, December 1981, p. 37).

During his brief and turbulent career, Basquiat produced an output abundant in highly expressive pictures that addressed the artist's own search for self-identity. As curator Marc Mayer wrote in the exhibition catalogue for the artist’s 2005 retrospective exhibition at the Brooklyn Museum of Art: “By the time his personal style had fully matured, at the preposterously early age of twenty-two, Jean Michel Basquiat had successfully avoided amateurism, historicism, academicism, cynicism, and irony, the gauntlet of aesthetic hazards peculiar to his time. It is all the more astonishing, then, that he succumbed to neither sentimentality nor nostalgia as he breathed life back into the modernist impulse. His success, both intellectual and aesthetic, as well as his uniqueness, is based on the paradoxical equilibrium of a practice that was at once modernist and postmodernist, conscious and self-conscious” (M. Mayer, “Basquiat in History,” Basquiat, exh. cat.; The Brooklyn Museum of Art, New York, 2005, p. 45). Here, in Half-Moon, the lunar body–a long time symbol of immortality and life after death–merges with the figure of the king, to construct an image of transcendence, eternal victory.

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