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Artist: Andy Warhol & Jean-Michel Basquiat
Title: Olympics, 1984
Lot: 8 Acrylic/Canvas Low Est.: $3,239,400 (£2,000,000)
Created: 1984 Signed on Overlap High Est.: $4,859,100 (£3,000,000)
Size: 75.98" x 122.05" (193cm x 310cm) Sales Price:** $10,951,200 (£6,761,250)
Auction House: Phillips de Pury & Company 06/28/2012
Provenance:
Galerie Bruno Bischofberger, Zurich Acquired directly from the above by the present owner

Exhibitions:
Kassel, Museum Fridericianum, Collaborations – Warhol/Basquiat/Clemente, 4 February–5 May 1996 Munich, Museum Villa Stuck, Collaborations – Warhol/Basquiat/Clemente, 25 July–29 September 1996 Torino, Castello di Rivoli, Museo d’Arte Contemporanea, Collaborations: Warhol – Basquiat – Clemente, 17 October 1996–19 January 1997 Humlebæk, Louisiana Museum of Modern Art, Andy Warhol and His World, 14 April–30 July 2000 Madrid, Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofía, Warhol/Basquiat/Clemente – Obras en Colaboración, 5 February–29 April 2002 Milan, Fondazione La Triennale di Milano, The Andy Warhol Show, 20 September 2004–9 January 2005

Literature:
Ida Gianelli, Tilman Osterwold, Richard D. Marhall et al., Collaborations: Warhol – Basquiat – Clemente, Castello di Rivoli Ostfildern: Hatje Cantz, 1996, p. 102 (illustrated in colour) Tilman Osterwold, Trevor Fairbrother, Keith Haring et al., Collaborations: Warhol/Basquiat/Clemente, Ostfildern: Hatje Cantz, 1996, p. 75 (illustrated in colour) S. Laursen, B. Nilsson et al., Andy Warhol and His World, Louisiana Museum of Modern Art, Humlebæk, 2000, p. 80, no. 55 (illustrated in colour) Juan Manuel Bonet, Richard D. Marshall, Enrique Juncosa, Warhol, Basquiat, Clemente – Obras en Colaboración, Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofía/Aldeasa, Madrid, 2002, p. 78 (illustrated in colour) Gianni Mercurio, Daniela Morera, The Andy Warhol Show, Milan: Skira, 2004, p.281, no. 207, (illustrated in colour) J. Vorbach and J. Faurschou, Andy Warhol Portraits: Spots, Stars and Society, Beijing: Faurschou, 2008, pp. 6–7 (illustrated in colour)

Notes:
Majestic in scale and radiant in colour, Andy Warhol and Jean-Michel Basquiat’s 1984 collaborative painting entitled Olympics belongs to a body of work that has finally garnered the critical acclaim it deserves and which is currently celebrated in the exhaustive exhibition Menage a Trois. Warhol, Basquiat, Clemente at the Bundeskunsthalle in Bonn looking at their collaborations. Filled with rich iconography and deeply layered in meaning, Olympics amalgamates some of the most pertinent recurrent themes found in each of Warhol’s and Basquiat’s oeuvres – race, fame, money and politics – all played out in the sporting arena. Combined in a single stunning artistic dialogue, the mesmerizing depth and breadth of the thematic interplay seen here is extraordinary even for these artists’ collaborations and even more rarely seen in either artist’s individual work. The collaborations came about in late 1983 when the Swiss art dealer Bruno Bischofberger decided to commission work from three of his artists, Andy Warhol, Jean-Michel Basquiat and the Italian Francesco Clemente. Their initial three-way collaborations were neither critically nor commercially successful but, unknown to Bischofberger, Warhol and Basquiat continued to paint together. In the mid 1980s, Warhol was at an artistic low, his then recent bodies of work being perceived as repetitive and lacking in depth. Although he was at first unwilling to associate with Basquiat, whom he saw as a wild child, he understood the potential gains of being associated with the rising star of the New York art world. Basquiat, like Warhol, also had a somewhat unhealthy obsession with his own image. He had a complex and powerful need to be accepted as a black artist in the white art world, so he greatly benefited socially from his association with Warhol whom he had courted for years and with whom he was able to reach the upper echelons of society previously barred to him. Although they had known each other from afar and each had already painted a portrait of the other – Basquiat’s 1982 iconic Dos Cabezas and Warhol’s urination painting of a wildly dreadlocked Jean-Michel – the highly prolific 18 months they spent collaborating would greatly intensify their relationship which was based on a mutual respect of each other’s work. However, when in the autumn of 1985 a group of Warhol-Basquiat collaborations were shown at the Tony Shafrazi Gallery in New York to strongly negative reviews – the New York Times cynically claimed that Basquiat was Warhol’s mascot simply sapping his ideas and energy – the.unstable and erratic Basquiat took great offence and the collaborations abruptly ended with Basquiat disassociating himself from Warhol. Warhol’s sudden death less than two years later, however, deeply saddened Basquiat and in a demonstration of the closeness and depth of their friendship, he executed the religiously inspired triptych Gravestone in memory of his friend. Recent scholarship established by the current Bonn retrospective exhibition confirms that the derision in the press at the time did not reflect the true relationship that Warhol and Basquiat enjoyed and that each artist esteemed the collaborations as an important and influential body of work within their respective bodies of work. Basquiat and Warhol were from different generations (over thirty years separated them); they also had very different social backgrounds – Basquiat was a disadvantaged African American who had grown up on the streets while Warhol was an established and wealthy artist who associated with the rich and famous; and they had radically different aesthetics, Basquiat being an expressionist painter while Warhol was a Pop chronicler of the everyday and the celebrity image. Yet, in spite of these differences, they complemented and exerted great influence on each other. In the collaborations, Basquiat has been credited with convincing Warhol to return to hand painting and in turn Warhol influenced Basquiat to adopt his silkscreen technique. Working simultaneously on several compositions with tremendous spontaneity and speed, Warhol’s cavernous Factory allowed the duo to paint on a scale neither of which had achieved before. Altogether they created over a 100 paintings, roughly a tenth of Basquiat’s entire artistic output, making the collaborations a consequential and influential body work which continues to define both Warhol and Basquiat individually and as a partnership. As voracious chroniclers of and commentators on the world around them, it is no great wonder that in the summer of 1984 with Los Angeles hosting the games of the XXIII Olympiad, Warhol and Basquiat appropriated the emblematic Olympic rings as the underlying motif for several of their collaborative efforts. As in the vast majority of their collaborative works, Warhol painted first – in Olympics he executed the Olympic rings, the stencilled word ‘Olympics’ and the multiple facial profile portraits in the same colours as the rings of the then American president Ronald Reagan complete with exaggerated bouffant hair. In typical Warholian fashion, the coupling of the Olympic logo with images of Reagan coolly captured and subtly satirized the political tension of the moment. At the height of Cold War tensions, the normally apolitical Olympic Games became the latest battleground pitting the communist Soviets against the capitalist Americans. Four years prior in 1980, the Americans had boycotted the Moscow Games and in retaliation the Soviets and other Communist states would this time boycott the Los Angeles games. Reagan, a high school football star, a former Los Angeles resident in his Hollywood heyday and then a governor of California, had featured in several earlier canvases by Warhol who, as a progressive democrat, referenced the president’s disastrous economic policy of deficit spending known as ‘Reaganomics’. From his very first works of art (his altered postcards and baseball cards which, incidentally, he famously sold as a teenager to Warhol in a Manhattan restaurant), Basquiat honoured African American athletes. He depicted baseball players and boxers like Hank Aaron, Jackie Robinson, Cassius Clay, Joe Frazier and Sugar Ray Robinson as the heroes and martyrs of David-and Goliath battles against the greed of the dominant white society which sought to exploit their athletic prowess for financial gain. Basquiat mirrored his own experience as a mixed race artist, half-Haitian half-Puerto Rican, struggling against the white art dealers who unscrupulously described his painterly style as ‘naïf, child-like scribbles’ to match his ‘exotic’ background. In the present lot, with myriad black faces overlapping the Olympic rings, Basquiat seems to be referencing two pivotal moments in the history of the games involving African American athletes: Jesse Owens’s four gold medals at the Nazi 1936 games in Berlin and the Black Power salute at the 1968 games in Mexico City. Prior to the present lot, Basquiat had glorified Owens in three works, two of which feature the Olympic rings – Jesse, 1983; Dark Horse-Jesse Owens, 1983; and Big Snow, 1984 – each time either associating an image of the sprinter with Superman’s emblem and the text “Famous Negro Athelete\47” or placing his name written out above a Nazi swastika. The second, more recent, reference which occurred during Basquiat’s lifetime and became an emblematic image and turning point of the American civil rights movement is the Black Power salute of the black-gloved fists raised defiantly in the air by the African American runners Tommie Smith and John Carlos while the American national anthem was played at the medal ceremony. The domestic political statement was deemed unfit for the apolitical, international forum of the Olympic Games by the IOC president Avery Brundage, who, it is worth noting, as president of the Unites States Olympic Committee had made great efforts to see the US participate in Berlin in 1936, despite widespread calls for a boycott, and Smith and Carlos were immediately expelled from the Games. They would go on to be ostracized by the American sporting establishment and even received death threats. While by now Smith and Carlos’s defiant act has been appropriately recognised, Basquiat, in the present lot, would be one of the first to pay homage to the enormous courage they demonstrated and the sacrifices they faced afterwards.

 

 


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