This April, for more than four months, art enthusiasts from around the world will be drawn to Paris as the Fondation Louis Vuitton presents a groundbreaking retrospective exhibition of Basquiat x Warhol. Featuring more than three hundred works and documents including eighty canvases jointly signed by the two artists, this ambitious exhibition offers an unparalleled exploration of their creative collaboration from 1984 to 1985. As two of the most influential artists of the 20th century, the union of Andy Warhol and Jean-Michel Basquiat sparked a unique and innovative partnership that generated some of the most memorable art of the era.
In October 1982, a meeting between the “Pop Art” icon Andy Warhol and the talented, emerging artist Jean-Michel Basquiat, known as the “Radiant Child,” marked the beginning of an artistic alliance that would yield 160 “à quatre mains” canvases from 1984 to 1985. Dieter Buchhart, the exhibition’s chief curator and Basquiat specialist, describes it as “the most successful collaboration in the history of art between two great artists, never equalled at this level and in this time frame.“
Both artists were known for challenging the traditional concepts of art and blurring the boundaries between so-called high and low culture. Warhol, born in 1928, gained fame for his bold, colorful, and often controversial silkscreen prints of famous people and everyday objects. Basquiat, born in 1960, quickly gained attention for his expressive, abstract, and politically charged artworks, often featuring skulls, crowns, and masks, influenced by African-American and Latino culture, as well as street art and the avant-garde.
The collaboration between Warhol and Basquiat began with a Polaroid self-portrait taken by Warhol, which Basquiat used as inspiration for a painting that he completed in just two hours. The pair’s friendship and artistic partnership flourished, leading to a series of paintings that reflected their shared interests in celebrity culture, consumerism, and the politics of race and identity. Keith Haring, a fellow artist and witness to their collaboration, described their creative exchange as a “conversation occurring through painting, instead of words,” and a merging of two minds to create a “third distinctive and unique mind.“
Despite their contrasting working styles and personal issues, Warhol’s impact on Basquiat’s artistic expression was profound. Even after Warhol’s death in 1987, Basquiat continued to create works in homage to his friend and mentor. Tragically, Basquiat himself passed away the following year due to an accidental drug overdose.
At the heart of this intriguing collaboration is the “Basquiat x Warhol, painting 4 hands” exhibition at the Fondation Louis Vuitton, running until August 28. Showcasing around 300 objects, including 70 of the 160 known collaborative works by Warhol and Basquiat, the exhibition offers a rare glimpse into the creative process of these two influential artists.
Suzanne Pagé, the Fondation’s artistic director, aptly describes the energy and passion of their collaboration as a “battle of wild hairdos.” The exhibition provides a unique opportunity to explore the intricate dynamics of their artistic partnership, which has been a subject of fascination and debate since their joint show at the Tony Shafrazi gallery in 1985.
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Co-curator Dieter Buchhart identifies six types of collaborative works between Warhol and Basquiat, ranging from hand-painted logos to more complex joint works. A notable example is “Arm and Hammer II”, which Buchhart considers key to understanding their creative process. Warhol painted the company logo on a gold acrylic background, while Basquiat reworked the left logo by erasing the arm and hammer and adding the face of jazz musician Charlie Parker, the word “Liberty,” and the number 1955, the year of Parker’s death. According to Pagé, Warhol’s willingness to let Basquiat obliterate elements from his compositions speaks to his generosity and open-mindedness.
As visitors progress through the exhibition, spread across the Fondation’s four floors, Warhol and Basquiat’s distinct styles begin to blur into one another. Warhol once said, “I draw first, and I paint like Jean-Michel. I think the paintings we do together are better when you don’t know who did what.” A prime example is “Felix the Cat”, which combines elements from both artists, resulting in a truly new visual language that emerged from their artistic conversation.
In a 1988 interview, artist and friend Keith Haring noted that the duo’s approaches to art and life seemed diametric, but their collaboration was symbiotic, empowering Warhol to return to painting and Basquiat to delve into silkscreening. Haring described their relationship as a “healthy balance,” with both artists respecting and admiring each other’s work and creative process.
The exhibition also features a short-lived collaboration with Francesco Clemente, resulting in 15 works that are less convincing than the Basquiat-Warhol pieces. However, these works serve to highlight the unique energy and synergy that emerged from the partnership between Warhol and Basquiat.
One of the most striking aspects of the exhibition is the palpable energy in their joint works, such as “Apples and Lemons” (1985), which includes a black-and-yellow floating head emitting musical notes and letters. Pagé notes that both artists had close ties to musicians, and the exhibition’s events programming will feature a cycle of concerts and a dance performance, emphasizing the connection between art and music in their work.
Though the Basquiat-Warhol collaboration is now celebrated as a landmark, the initial reception of their joint works was mixed. Critics such as Vivien Raynor of the New York Times questioned the power dynamics of the partnership, suggesting that Warhol was manipulating Basquiat, who appeared as a willing accessory. Despite the initial skepticism, the two artists remained friends until their respective deaths, and their creative sessions left an indelible mark on the art world.
The “Basquiat x Warhol, Painting 4 hands” exhibition at the Fondation Louis Vuitton provides a comprehensive and immersive exploration of the creative relationship between these two artistic giants. By examining the intricacies of their collaboration, the exhibition challenges preconceived notions about their partnership and invites the audience to reevaluate the significance of their joint works.
The exhibition also places emphasis on the artistic dialogue between Warhol and Basquiat, a stark contrast to the 2018 show at the Fondation that featured Basquiat and Egon Schiele. Pagé had argued that creating a dialogue between Basquiat and Schiele would have been a betrayal to both artists. Instead, the current exhibition focuses on an artist with whom Basquiat was genuinely engaged in a creative exchange.
As a testament to the lasting impact of the Warhol-Basquiat collaboration, this exhibition offers an opportunity for audiences to witness the fusion of two creative minds that gave birth to a unique and powerful artistic language. The show serves as a reminder of the transformative potential of artistic partnerships, transcending individual talents to create something truly extraordinary.
Basquiat x Warhol, Painting 4 hands
(5 April – 28 August 2023)
Fondation Louis Vuitton
8 Av. du Mahatma Gandhi
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