Lot Content

Global notice COVID-19 Important notice
Jean-Michel Basquiat & Andy Warhol (1960-1988 & 1928-1987)
Jean-Michel Basquiat & Andy Warhol (1960-1988 & 1928-1987)

Keep Frozen (General Electric)

Details
Jean-Michel Basquiat & Andy Warhol (1960-1988 & 1928-1987)
Keep Frozen (General Electric)
acrylic and silkscreen on canvas
95 x 80in. (241.5 x 203.4cm.)
Executed in 1985
Provenance
Galerie Bruno Bischofberger, Zurich.
Acquired from the above by the present owner in 2010.

Brought to you by

Katharine Arnold
Katharine Arnold

Lot Essay

‘… two totally different kinds of artists, different styles, different ages, one more formal for 20 years and the other a brilliant young star, working together, painting over – changing – obliterating – altering – making new paintings. Can you imagine that? It had to do with a certain dialectic, and it was so important because it made a lot of other art look tame by comparison’
TONY SHAFRAZI


Measuring nearly two-and-a-half metres high and emblazoned with a dramatic collation of seemingly random imagery that ranges from the painted to the printed and from diagrams to an iconic corporate logo, Keep Frozen is a classic ‘collaboration painting’ made by Andy Warhol and Jean-Michel Basquiat at the height of their partnership in 1985. These ‘collaboration’ paintings, which number around 130 examples made between 1984 and 1985, form the main body of work for both of these now legendary artists during these years, as well as marking important new developments taking place in each artist’s work. Indeed, for Basquiat especially, the collaboration paintings he made with Warhol represent much of the main focus of his aesthetic interest during these years. This is an often-overlooked aspect of these works, which was signified not only by the enormous amount of importance Basquiat placed upon the first show of these works at the Shafrazi Gallery in 1985 but also by his arranging (after Warhol’s death and, tragically, shortly before his own) of another major exhibition of such pictures subsequently held at the Mayor Gallery, David Grob Ltd and The Mayor Rowan Gallery in London in 1988. As Tony Shafrazi, the gallerist who hosted the first landmark exhibition of these works at his gallery in New York in September 1985, has recalled, this unique collaboration between arguably the two painterly giants of the 1980s was one that pushed both artists’ work into new, groundbreaking directions while also championing and reflecting the pervasive spirit of collaborative, immediate, almost DIY creativity that distinguished so much of the new Downtown art scene in New York in the mid- 1980s. Playful, dynamic, cross-cultural and trans-generational, Warhol and Basquiat’s collaboration was both a symbol of and an important influence upon many of the young post-modernists, appropriationists and deconstructivists of this time. It was a creative partnership that, as Shafrazi has pointed out, effectively ‘cancelled the traditionally modernistic idea that one thing had to come after another.’ ‘I think ... it was a tremendously important, historically energizing and unique event’, he has said. Here were ‘two totally different kinds of artists, different styles, different ages, one more formal for 20 years and the other a brilliant young star, working together, painting over – changing – obliterating – altering – making new paintings. Can you imagine that? It had to do with a certain dialectic, and it was so important because it made a lot of other art look tame by comparison’ (T. Shafrazi, quoted in ‘Interview: Tony Shafrazi speaks with Dieter Burckhart, May 2011’ in Warhol & Basquiat, exh. cat. Arken Museum of Modern Art, Copenhagen, 2011, p. 88).

Warhol and Basquiat’s collaboration paintings originated as a privately arranged continuation, between these two unlikely friends, of an earlier three-way collaboration between Basquiat, Warhol and Francesco Clemente that had been instigated by the artists’ dealer Bruno Bischofberger. Through these works, Basquiat and Warhol had found the experience of working together so stimulating that throughout 1984 (without Clemente), they continued to paint together regularly at Warhol’s famous Factory in New York. For much of the next two years, culminating in the Shafrazi exhibition in September ’85, the closeness and intensity of this shared painterly adventure grew as their ‘collaborative’ paintings came to catalogue and express something of the unique friendship that existed between these two famous but very different painters. ‘I was the one who helped Andy Warhol paint!’ Basquiat triumphantly remembered. ‘It had been twenty years since he’d touched a brush. Thanks to our collaboration, he was able to rediscover his relationship to painting ... Andy would start most of the paintings. He would start one and put something very recognisable on it, or a product logo, and then I would sort of deface it. Then I would try to get him to work some more on it, and then I would work some more on it. I would try to get him to do at least two things. He likes to do just one hit, and then have me do all the work after that’ (J-M. Basquiat, quoted in Jean Michel Basquiat, exh. cat. Museo Revoltella, Trieste, 1999).

Keep Frozen is a painting that dates from the height of the two artists’ collaboration and has been executed in at least three of what Basquiat called ‘hits’. Firstly, over a smooth, monochrome, acid yellow background, a series of drawings of mechanical apparatus by Basquiat has been silkscreened in black. Over these printed images that evidently ape Warhol’s trademark silk-screening technique, Warhol has painted, by hand and in blue, the logo of the General Electric company. After this Basquiat has completed the painting by adding the head of a ‘Gri’-like figure (top-left), a red square (top-right) and the copyrighted logo ‘Keep Frozen’ written on a black strip of paint across the top of the work. Both logos, ‘Keep Frozen’ and the ‘GE’ of the General Electric company were elements familiar to each artist’s work at this time and here they have been brought together into a humorous coalition. Basquiat’s seemingly laughing ‘Gri’ figure takes the place of the penguin that normally accompanied the ‘Keep Frozen’ logo in other collaboration pictures. In this way and by exchanging roles – Basquiat silkscreening, and Warhol using a brush – a cohesive, strongly diagrammatic painting has been created in which the random, arbitrary immediacy of Basquiat’s style here appears to have been given a Warholian – General Electric – seal of approval.

As in many of the most successful collaboration paintings, Warhol’s cool, impersonal, corporate-America style is energized and made edgy, unnerving and new again by the intervention of the raw, urban, attack of Basquiat’s inimitable and intuitive brushwork. This contrast between apparently cold, corporate rationalism and the warm, neurotic and fragile humanity of Basquiat’s unfiltered impulses creates a fascinating pictorial dialectic. It was a dialectic that evidently intrigued and motivated the two painters to ever further collaborative exploration, and it is one that that attains what Keith Haring – probably the most eloquent recorder of these collaborative sessions – described in terms of what William S. Burroughs once called the ‘third mind’ – that moment when ‘two amazing minds’ become fused ‘together to create a third totally separate and unique mind’.

‘Jean-Michel and Andy were from different generations and different sociological backgrounds. They had radically different painting styles and equally different aesthetics. They were at different stages of their lives and different levels of their own development. Physically, the only trait they had in common was their hair. Somewhere though, they found a common ground and established a healthy relationship … Jean respected Andy’s philosophy and was in awe of his accomplishments and mastery of colour and images. Andy was amazed by the ease with which Jean composed and constructed his paintings and was constantly surprised by the never-ending flow of new ideas. Each one inspired the other to outdo the next. The collaborations were seemingly effortless. It was a physical conversation happening in paint instead of words. The sense of humour, the snide remarks, the profound realizations, the simple chit-chat, all happened with paint and brushes. I visited them at the Factory several times while they were painting together. The atmosphere was playful and intense at the same time. Jean-Michel’s painting posture and disregard for technique created a mood of unnerving spectacle. There was a sense that one was watching something being unveiled and discovered for the first time. It seemed to push him to new heights. Andy returned to painting with beautiful, delicate lines, carefully laid onto the canvas. The drips and gestures immediately reminded me of the earliest Warhol paintings I had seen. The new scale had forced him to develop an even richer draughtsmanship. The lines flowed onto the canvas…It was truly an event. There were canvases hanging all over the Factory. They worked on many at the same time, each idea inspiring the next. Layers and layers of images and ideas would build towards a concise climax. It was exciting to visit the Factory at this time ... For me, the paintings which resulted from this collaboration are the perfect testimony to the depth and importance of their friendship. The quality of the painting mirrors the quality of the relationship. The sense of humour which permeates all the works recalls the laughter which surrounded them while they were being made. They are truly an invention of what William S Burroughs called “The Third Mind” - two amazing minds fusing together to create a third totally separate and unique mind’ (K. Haring, ‘Painting the Third Mind’, 4 October 1988, New York City, reproduced in Collaborations: Andy Warhol, Jean-Michel Basquiat, exh. cat. The Mayor Gallery, London, 1988, n.p.).

More from Post-War and Contemporary Art Evening Auction

View All
View All