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The Collection of Thomas and Doris Ammann

1/2 Keep Frozen

1/2 Keep Frozen
signed, stamped with the Estate of Andy Warhol and the Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts, Inc. stamps and numbered 'Andy Warhol Jean-Michel Basquiat PA99.027' (on the overlap)
acrylic and oilstick on canvas
76 1/8 x 125 3/4 in. (193 x 319.5 cm.)
Executed in 1984-1985.
Estate of Andy Warhol, New York
The Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts, New York
Gagosian Gallery, New York
Private collection, United States
Thomas Ammann Fine Art AG, Zurich
Acquired from the above by the present owner
Los Angeles, Gagosian Gallery, Andy Warhol, Jean-Michel Basquiat: Collaboration Paintings, May-June 2002 (illustrated).
Monaco, Grimaldi Forum, SuperWarhol, July-August 2003, p. 477, no. 242 (illustrated).
Ishøj, ARKEN Museum of Modern Art; Bonn, Kunst-und Ausstellungshalle, Warhol & Basquiat, September 2011-May 2012, p. 36, no. 51, (illustrated).
Zurich, Thomas Ammann Fine Art AG, GIRL AND DOLL: Alex Bag, Dese Escobar, Klaudia Schifferle & Works from the Thomas and Doris Ammann Foundation, June-September 2022, no. 24 (illustrated).

Brought to you by

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

Lot Essay

Standing over six feet tall and ten feet wide, 1/2 Keep Frozen is an imposing painting, immersing the viewer within its vividly hued surface. Painted by Andy Warhol and Jean-Michel Basquiat in 1984/85, this is one of the Collaborations that the celebrated artists made together during that period. In these, the two painters, one an established figure of the global art scene and the other a rising star, turned the canvas into an arena in which to play, joust and perform. These works were the product of the inter-generational friendship between Warhol and Basquiat, and were also vehicles for that friendship. Within the vast expanse of the picture surface, the two very different characters are thrown into relief the one by the other. The crisp finish of Warhol’s contribution in the form of the ‘1/2’ are countered by the raw energy of the tuxedo-wearing penguin and writing on the other side. Basquiat has included several of his most recognised motifs in this painting, including the copyright symbol and the three-pointed crown.

Basquiat had long revered Warhol and had encountered him a number of times before meeting him properly at a lunch in 1982. Shortly afterwards, Basquiat’s enthusiasm was demonstrated in a painting which he produced within hours to commemorate the occasion, a dual portrait entitled Dos Cabezas. Warhol was impressed with the speed with which Basquiat had worked. Over the coming years, they came to know each other better. However, it took a couple of years before the Collaborations such as 1/2 Keep Frozen began.

These evolved spontaneously from an earlier group of works created by Francesco Clemente, Warhol and Basquiat, orchestrated by the renowned Swiss art dealer Bruno Bischofberger. Basquiat and Warhol enjoyed the process so much that they continued to create pictures together, essentially in secret. Indeed, on 7 May 1984, Warhol recollected visiting the office: “Bruno was there and Jean-Michel was hiding our work from Bruno – the ones that just Jean-Michel and I are doing. Bruno… doesn’t know about these that’re just the two of us” (A. Warhol, 7 May 1984, The Andy Warhol Diaries, ed. Pat Hackett, New York, 1989, p. 572).

The work that Basquiat and Warhol created together differed from the earlier tripartite collaborations in that the artists tended to work together. Earlier, with Clemente, the pictures were shipped from studio to studio, allowing each to make his mark. Now, the artists were able to respond immediately to each other’s interventions. As Basquiat explained, ‘[Warhol] would start most of the paintings. He would put something very concrete or recognisable, like a newspaper headline or a product logo, and then I would sort of deface it’ (J. Basquiat, quoted in ‘I Have to Have Some Source Material Around Me: Jean-Michel Basquiat interviewed by Becky Johnston and Tamra Davis, Beverly Hills, California, 1983’, pp. xxi-xxxi, Dieter Buchhart & Sam Keller (ed.), Basquiat, exh. cat., Riehen, 2010,p. xxxi).

The Collaborations were a mutually beneficial exercise: Basquiat revered Warhol, and was now able to interact on a frequent basis with his mentor and hero. At the same time, Basquiat’s energy and the raw vivaciousness of his sign-making complimented and contrasted with Warhol’s Pop iconography, adding a new verve and energy to his work. When Warhol heard how much his collaborations with both Basquiat and Clemente were being sold for, after being bought for much less, he was philosophical: “but well, Jean Michel got me into painting differently, so that’s a good thing” (A. Warhol, quoted 17 September 1984, Hackett (ed.), op. cit., 1989, p. 600).

Both artists had an ineffable eye for composition, a factor that is plainly evident in 1/2 Keep Frozen. In this picture, Warhol’s ‘1/2’ is crisp, emblazoned, appropriately enough, across half of the vast expanse of the picture surface. It encapsulates the nature of the collaboration in itself, with the whole picture divided between the two artists. This was a motif that featured in several of Warhol’s collaborations with Basquiat. Warhol’s ‘1/2’ is large and bold, but incredibly economic in its appearance. Next to it, Basquiat picks up on the use of black, yet to very different effect with its drips, legible brushstrokes and variations in texture. Basquiat’s mark-making is highly gestural, emphatically hand-made, be it the area that has been seemingly effaced in a lavender-grey or the dripping from the scrawled words, ‘Keep Frozen’. Similarly, the narrow white ovals of the eyes on the tuxedo-wearing penguin ensure that the individual brushstrokes can be traced, a contrast with the sheen of Warhol’s opening salvo.

While Warhol’s ‘1/2’ has laid his territorial claim to half of the canvas in this picture, Basquiat has countered not only with his style, but also his content. He has included the copyright symbol which he used in a number of works, staking out his own intellectual property. This scrawled symbol is all the more potent in its use by an artist who had formerly written his words on the walls of New York as part of the graffiti duo SAMO. For Basquiat the copyright symbol is a wry invocation to the realms of legalese. It has been rendered expressionistically, creating a deliberate discord between style and content, his street art background colliding with this protective establishment symbol. Basquiat is using it to illustrate and even infiltrate the hierarchies at work in the art world and in society at large, marking out his own territory while encroaching on that of others.

Basquiat’s zone within the painting is dominated by the besuited penguin, adopted from the international symbol recommending that food is frozen. This appropriation of an image from the world of popular consumer culture echoes Warhol’s use of print sources for his own iconic Pop works. However, Basquiat has turned the benign penguin of frozen food fame into a more sinister symbol through its narrowed eyes and sketched grin. In a sense, this is a penguin more reminiscent in tone of Batman’s adversary. However, Basquiat has used the black paint to emphasise this as a black figure, arguably the most recurrent theme in his art. It is telling that in Amoco, another of the Collaborations from this period, Basquiat showed a similar penguin in militaristic dress, brandishing a flaming torch. In some of his pictures of a penguin, Basquiat included a top hat, an attribute of Baron Samedi, the loa or spirit of death in the Vodou belief tradition of Haiti, where Basquiat’s father was raised. Baron Samedi featured in several of Basquiat’s paintings through the years, and his symbolism pervades even more. This adds a dark potency to the penguin in 1/2 Keep Frozen. Even the phrase ‘Keep Frozen’, used both in this picture and in Amoco, takes on a more profound aspect. Is this a question of preservation, or self-preservation? Is this an incitement to stasis, and if so, is the penguin encouraging us to escape it? Basquiat’s work is filled with an energy that rails against any notion of the status quo that such a phrase might introduce.

Another of Basquiat’s frequently used and even iconic symbols hovers over the head of the penguin figure—the crown. Suzanne Mallouk, his girlfriend during the early period of his success, recalled that this derived from Basquiat’s love of the old Hal Roach series Our Gang: at the end, the King World Productions logo would appear with a crown on the screen which then became the W at the center of the acronym, KWP (see Suzanne Mallouk, ‘Suzanne Mallouk Remembers’, pp. 96-103 in Jean-Michel Basquiat 1981: The Studio of the Street, exh. cat., New York & Milan, 2007, p. 99). Adopted by Basquiat, this crown became a symbol that cuts to the heart of the concerns that he explained lay at the center of his art: ‘Royalty, heroes and the streets’ (Basquiat, quoted in H. Geldzahler, ‘Art: from subways to Soho: Jean Michel Basquiat’, pp. 18-26, Jean Michel Basquiat: Gemälde und Arbeiten auf Papier, exh. cat., Vienna, 1999, p. 23). Here, the penguin has become the hero, the king, a powerful spirit figure, a spirit of vengeance or protection, reminiscent more of Baron Samedi than of frozen food. Like Warhol, Basquiat is showcasing his ability to use a concise symbolism to convey a wave of thoughts, meanings and implications. In collaboration, these two artists have created a picture that is like a one-two combo in boxing, an aesthetic double punch to the eye and to the mind.

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