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signed, titled and dated '1984 "FARINA" Jean-Michel Basquiat' (on the reverse)
acrylic and oilstick on canvas
86 x 68 in. (218.4 x 172.7 cm.)
Painted in 1984.
Galerie Bischofberger, Zürich
Acquired from the above by the present owner, 1993
Casa Vogue (Italia), April 1995, pp. 104, 106 (illustrated).
New York Magazine, October 1995, pp. 40-41 (illustrated).
A. Taschen and B. Wedekind, New York Interiors, Cologne, 1997, pp. 90-91 (illustrated).
New York Living, January 1998, p. 23 (installation view illustrated).
E. Navarra et al., Jean-Michel Basquiat, Vol. II, Paris, 2000, pp. 202-203, no. 5 (illustrated).
J.M. Saggese, Reading Basquiat: Exploring Ambivalence in American Art, Berkeley and Los Angeles, 2014, p. 23.
R. Isken, Re-envisioning the Contemporary Art Canon, London and New York, 2017, p. 61.
Barcelona, Dau al Set Galeria d'Art, Jean-Michel Basquiat, December 1989, n.p., no. 10 (illustrated).
Tokyo, Mori Arts Center Gallery, Jean-Michel Basquiat: Made in Japan, September-November 2019, p. 191 (illustrated).
Melbourne, The National Gallery of Victoria, Keith Haring & Jean-Michel Basquiat: Crossing Lines, November 2019-March 2020, p. 131 (illustrated).
Special notice
On occasion, Christie's has a direct financial interest in the outcome of the sale of certain lots consigned for sale. This will usually be where it has guaranteed to the Seller that whatever the outcome of the auction, the Seller will receive a minimum sale price for the work. This is known as a minimum price guarantee. This is such a lot.

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Isabella Lauria
Isabella Lauria Vice President, Senior Specialist, Head of 21st Century Evening Sale

Lot Essay

Screaming atop a luminous, textural painted white surface, Jean-Michel Basquiat’s Farina is a cutting example of the artist’s signature visual language, learned eye and radically palpable energy. Painted is the singular figure of a chef amidst what appears to be a rush hour frenzy. In removing this figure from his assumed landscape and throwing him into a contrasting relief with the pure background, the viewer is allowed a rare glimpse at Basquiat’s mastery of energy through figuration. Disjointed eyes, one floating next to its head, arrest the viewer’s gaze and implicate them in his agitation. Fire-licks of red constitute a scorching tongue between the chef’s maniacal grin, and blaze from his raised hand, igniting the painted shoe and adjoined words ‘REPAIRS’ and ‘REBUILDING ©’ above. A second pair of cutting eyes reveal themselves in the two eggs that rest toward the base of the canvas, their glowing yellow yolks perhaps the perfect product of the chef’s mania. Slashing through the chef’s torso is a bold passage of midnight black, atop which the artist has written ‘CREAM OF WHEAT ©’, a nod to the artist’s continued use of the copyright symbol and the ubiquity of aforementioned dish on American breakfast tables. Basquiat’s investigation in the use of a Black chef may also be noted in his Eyes and Eggs, which is presently housed in the permanent collection of The Broad in Los Angeles. Both works exemplify the artist’s fascination with anatomy, with the present example’s hat resembling a femur. The composition of Farina is inherently skeletal, leaning into the artist’s passion for Grey’s Anatomy, an influence that can also be read in his chilling work, Riding with Death. Through the juxtaposition of this elegantly economic range of elements, Basquiat manages to create a web of illusions and allusions that cut to the heart of his art.

Here, the viewer is offered a rare glimpse of the artist’s perception of figuration and composition on a deceivingly pared-down plane. Upon further inspection, this work is full of Basquiat’s complex iconographies and the academic countenance for which he is most celebrated. The title of the work, Farina, refers to a type of milled wheat eaten in North and Central America as a hot breakfast cereal. It is also a play on the Spanish word for "flour." Contemporaries of the artist continue to explore this subject matter, as can be noted in Robert Gober's Untitled (1993-1994), a larger-than-life sculptural replication of a Farina box. In this painting, Basquiat appropriates an historical advertisement for the brand Cream of Wheat that depicted a smiling African-American chef called Rastus wearing a chef’s hat and holding a steaming bowl of cereal.

In Basquiat’s depiction, the bowl of cereal is replaced with the silhouette of a shoe with the words ‘REPAIRS’ on the side and ‘REBUILDING©’ underneath. The painting includes two copyright marks, a symbol Basquiat employed in many works to explore authorship, ownership, monetization and branding. The chef encapsulates the intellectual versatility apparent in Basquiat’s greatest works, serving as a palimpsest of references and meanings beyond its initial simplicity. A referential artist, Basquiat’s use of ‘CREAM OF WHEAT ©’ may be seen as an echo to the Pop Art signs and logos appropriated by his friend and artistic muse, Andy Warhol. At this stage in Basquiat’s career, he and Warhol were actively juxtaposing their languages in bold collaborations on a frequent basis.

Basquiat has made use of Warhol’s appropriations of the visual culture of the everyday American larder, yet the present example offers greater emotion and intentionality. In place of the crisp screenprinting of Warhol’s Pop masterpieces, Farina is filled with a gestural expressionism. What he offers in vivacity he doubles in cultural innuendo and critique, complicating the figure of Rastus – from which ‘Cream of Wheat’ received inconceivable profit at the expense of Black exploitation – by probing his tokenization. Basquiat’s criticism resonates particularly poignant today, with the strengthening of movements such as Black Lives Matter rightfully throwing into question the role of Black portrayal in American consumer culture.

One may recall the recent demand for the reification of Black representation in recognizable figures like Aunt Jemima and Uncle Ben, whose diminishing portrayal propagated harmful stereotypes of Blackness in mainstream media. One may recall Lucille Clifton's 2008 poem, Cream of Wheat, where she writes from the perspective of Rastus, "Ben and Jemima and me they / walk in front remembering this and that / I lag behind / trying to remove my chef's cap / wondering about whatever pictured me / then left me personless / Rastus" (L. Clifton, Cream of Wheat, 2008). Basquiat was highly attuned to the prevalence of such dehumanizing images in American culture, mining them for his own pointed use. He was all too aware that, “Black people are never portrayed realistically in… not even portrayed in modern art enough… I use the ‘Black’ as the protagonist because I am Black, and that’s why I use it as the main character in all the paintings” (J. Basquiat, quoted in S. Nairne, ‘Interview between Jean-Michel Basquiat, Geoff Dunlop and Sandy Nairne’, in 265). Just as Basquiat used Black icons such as Charlie Parker, Sugar Ray Robinson and Joe Louis, so he added the exploited Rastus to this pantheon, allowing him to become a form of self-portrait and a projection of the roles made available to African Americans in a still-racialised Western world.

Basquiat was keenly attuned to this sort of representation. He was conscious of the pitfalls of tokenisation by which he was feted as the ‘black Picasso’, concerned that he was being celebrated for his origins and not his work (see Jordana Moore Saggese, Reading Basquiat: Exploring Ambivalence in American Art, Berkeley, Los Angeles & London, 2014, Chapter 1). Even the title Farina adds to this complexity: this was the name of a famous African-American character played by Allen Hoskins in Hal Roach’s pre-Second World War series Our Gang, also known as Little Rascals. The prominent presence of Farina, a Black child, in Our Gang was a rare and popular image that doubtless also marked Basquiat and later inspired the artist to begin painting his now preeminent crown motifs. Farina was an addition to the unjustly slender group of Black figures embedded within popular culture without negative connotations at that time. Identifying strongly with the elevated presence of Farina's representation, here Basquiat lends a new figure to this esteemed legacy.

In Farina, the figure at the center of the canvas is portrayed wracked with an anxiety, a scream reminiscent of a Francis Bacon pope. Perhaps the anatomical nature of this example can be attributed to the artist’s proximity to Farris Thompson, author of Flash of the Spirit, a book of Yoruba traditions that Basquiat was enamoured with. Basquiat’s chef’s quasi-hat/fragmented femur recalls the Yoruban thunderstones – dual bulbous elements placed atop one’s head – worn to iconize the thunder god Shàngó. By donning his chef with Shàngó’s deistic powers, Basquiat effectively elevates the figure of Rastus, granting him divine transcendence. Basquiat’s Farina is an intricate super-positioning of consumerism, anatomy, divinity and the politics of liberatory representation, each bleeding into one another. The present example eviscerates contemporary consumer culture and its inherent racism, rather celebrating the excellence of African and African-American art and folklore. Farina may also be considered a portrait of the artist himself, painted as Basquiat negotiates his way as a trailblazing artist for the people.

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