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FONDATION LOUIS VUITTON REVISITS ONE OF ART HISTORY'S MOST REMARKABLE COLLABS IN 'WARHOL X BASQUIAT'

On a crisp autumn day in 1982, perceptive Swiss art dealer Bruno Bischofberger, eager to orchestrate what could become the art world's most monumental collaboration, arranged a brunch for two artists he represented. One was the king of Pop art himself, Andy Warhol, and the other was the rising star of the decade, Jean-Michel Basquiat. The gathering took place at the Factory, but Basquiat, his creative spark ignited, hastily departed - only to send a double portrait of both artists back to the Factory within two hours. Warhol, impressed and envious, purportedly remarked, "I'm really jealous—he is faster than me."

Dos Cabezas by Jean Michel-Basquiat

Basquiat, Dos Cabezas, 1982. Basquiat painted this after one of his first meetings with Warhol. “He went home and within two hours a painting was back, still wet, of him and me together. And I mean, just getting to Christie Street must have taken an hour. He told me his assistant painted it,” Warhol wrote.

This painting, Dos Cabezas (Two Heads), serves as the opening act of a new, grandiose exhibition at the Fondation Louis Vuitton in Paris, delving into the 1984-85 collaboration between these two titans of art which culminated in a joint show at the Tony Shafrazi gallery. During a preview of the exhibition, Suzanne Pagé, the Fondation's artistic director, described the painting as brimming with "Basquiat's passion and energy," and, with a touch of humor, a "battle of wild hairdos."

In a world where artistic collaborations are often as predictable as a paint-by-numbers set, a new exhibition opening today and running until August 28th offers a delightful and unexpected exploration of the creative dance between two titans of the avant-garde. The 2018 show at the Fondation was a tantalizing, albeit frustrating, juxtaposition of Jean-Michel Basquiat and Egon Schiele, leaving visitors yearning for a more engaging dialogue between the two artists. Alas, that was not to be, as the curator felt it would be a "betrayal" to both. However, little did we know that a more fitting artistic tête-à-tête was already in the works.

Enter "Basquiat x Warhol, à quatre mains" (translated to "Painting four hands"), a sumptuous feast of creative synergy boasting around 300 objects, including 70 of the 160 works co-created by Basquiat and Warhol. The exhibition's co-curator, Dieter Buchhart, who has immersed himself in the study of these two artists for over two decades, hints that there may be an additional 20 missing works of a smaller scale, further tantalizing the art world.

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Andy Warhol and Jean-Michel Basquiat paint in Warhol’s Manhattan loft in 1984. Throughout his diaries, Warhol occasionally expresses frustration with Basquiat’s habit of painting over others’ work. He also writes about his attempts to match his style as closely as possible to Basquiat’s as they worked.

But what, pray tell, was the secret sauce in this artistic alliance? The making of their collaborative masterpieces has long been a subject of intrigue and speculation, with theories and anecdotes swirling around like brushstrokes on a canvas, even inspiring a recent Broadway play. In a 1986 interview with screenwriter Becky Johnston and director Tamra Davis, Basquiat offered a glimpse behind the curtain, explaining that Warhol typically set the stage by adding a concrete or recognizable element, such as a newspaper headline or product logo. Then, Basquiat would dive deeper, playfully coaxing his mentor to contribute more than a single "hit" before taking over the reins and completing the work.

In an insightful essay for the exhibition catalogue, Buchhart dissects the duo's creative process into six distinct categories: hand-painted logos (e.g., Arm & Hammer or Paramount), simple motifs (dogs, appliances, or fruits) as basic themes, headline paintings, silkscreens, Warhol's more intricate visual creations (like a landscape) to which Basquiat would respond, and finally, the pièce de résistance – joint works in which Warhol initiated a complex, copy-and-paste style, such as the captivating Arm and Hammer II.

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Basquiat and Andy Warhol, Arm and Hammer II, 1985

For Buchhart, Arm and Hammer II serves as a Rosetta Stone for deciphering the duo's creative process, a focal point in the exhibition's opening room. Warhol's gold acrylic backdrop, reminiscent of his iconic Gold Marilyn Monroe, is adorned with the logo of an American baking soda manufacturer. Basquiat, ever the iconoclast, reworks the logo by erasing the arm and hammer, replacing it with the visage of jazz legend Charlie Parker, the word "Liberty," and the fateful year of Parker's death, 1955. A crossed-out, misspelled "commemeritive" [sic] and "one cent" further underscore Basquiat's irreverence.

Pagé extols Warhol's generosity and open-mindedness in allowing Basquiat to obliterate elements of his compositions. Yet, a displayed interview reveals a hint of tension, as Warhol playfully (or sarcastically) accuses Basquiat of "painting him out." The line between jest and genuine grievance remains delightfully ambiguous.

As the exhibition unfolds across the Fondation's four floors, the artists' distinct styles meld together, a phenomenon that Warhol relished: "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," he said.

The exhibition's second gallery, featuring Clemente-Basquiat-Warhol works, seems to serve primarily as a foil to the brilliance of the Basquiat-Warhol collaborations. While the trio produced only 15 pieces together, Basquiat and Warhol continued partnering in the months leading up to their 1985 show.

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Left: Warhol and Basquiat lift weights with Lidija Cenjic, Warhol’s friend and trainer, in the studio in August 1983. Right: in 1984 Basquiat painted this portrait of Warhol lifting dumbbells, embellishing a bit because Warhol seems to have kept his turtleneck on during these workouts.

Some of the duo's most riveting works emanate a palpable energy, as if capturing the very essence of their creative dance. Apples and Lemons (1985), for instance, features a vibrant floating head, spewing forth musical notes and letters, as though infusing the canvas with sound. Pagé highlights the artists' deep connections to the music world, from Basquiat's ties to Fab 5 Freddy and A-One, to Warhol's relationships with the Velvet Underground, Lou Reed, Blondie, David Bowie, and The Cars.

The exhibition's events programming also embraces this musical influence, with a series of concerts and a dance performance featuring both amateurs and professionals. Moreover, visitors gain access to the Philharmonie de Paris's "Basquiat Soundtrack," delving into Basquiat's love affair with music.

 

The Basquiat-Warhol collaboration, now hailed as a groundbreaking fusion of two extraordinary minds (in the words of Keith Haring, "creating a third, totally separate, and unique mind"), was initially met with skepticism. Reviews of the Shafrazi show, where some of the works were first unveiled, were predominantly negative.

New York Times critic Vivien Raynor, who found the canvases to be "large, bright, messy, full of private jokes and inconclusive," remarked on the perceived power imbalance between the two artists – Warhol as the manipulator and Basquiat as the all-too-eager accomplice.

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Left: Warhol and Basquiat pose together at a Rockefeller Center party thrown by Steven Greenberg on September 19, 1985. Right: Basquiat and Andy Warhol, Apples and Lemons, 1985.

Despite the criticism, the pair remained amicable, albeit somewhat distant, until their untimely deaths a few years later. Their daily creative sessions gradually dwindled.

In a 1986 interview with Johnston and Davis, Basquiat claimed to have produced "a million paintings" with Warhol. Bucchart, chuckling at the apparent exaggeration, quipped, "But if you count in square meters, it is somehow accurate."

 

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