By Alejandra Álvarez, Senior Editor, Multi-Arts
There exists a beautiful and incorruptible force that has always been capable of altering the trajectory of history: friendship. Friendship is and has always been, a transformative factor. Genuine friendship ensures that nothing in the world can undermine the bond between individuals and their dedication to their friend's happiness and success. And so, the Louis Vuitton Foundation has meticulously curated and presented an exhibition that, before daring to categorize as a display of art, genius, or talent, I would define a celebration of friendship; Basquiat X Warhol, à quatre mains.
In New York in the 1980s, the renowned and influential Andy Warhol encountered the enthusiastic and exceptionally captivating Jean-Michel Basquiat. This meeting forever altered the course of contemporary art.
These two artists were officially acquainted in October 1982, thanks to Bruno Bischofberger, the gallerist who represented them both. As described by those who were close to them, the chemistry was immediate. In this electric atmosphere, the year 1983 saw the early stages of an artistic collaboration between our two New York-based artists and the Neapolitan artist Francesco Clemente. After this power trio concluded their work together (which is magnificent and can also be appreciated at the exhibition), Basquiat and Warhol continued to collaborate, creating around 160 artworks together. An exhibition held at the Tony Sharazi Gallery celebrated and presented some of the best results of this magical encounter. After the exhibition, both artists focused on their individual projects until Warhol’s death in 1987, which was then followed by Basquiat's death in 1988.
Some exhibitions stay with us because of their beauty; some exhibitions stay with us because of their
content; others, because of their approach. "Basquiat X Warhol, à quatre mains" is a balanced combination of all these equally relevant factors. All the curators involved in this project, working under the general curatorship of Suzanne Pagé (the current artistic director of the Louis Vuitton Foundation), have achieved a successful exhibition that will be hard to forget.
The exhibition is divided into rooms, covering the early stages of their encounter until the end, when Basquiat created a piece born out of his pain upon learning of Andy Warhol’s passing. Walking through the exhibition is like strolling through a vintage New York. Most of the artworks were created at Andy Warhol's studio, known back then as "The Factory." This place served as a communal space where painters, poets, actors, and musicians gathered, conversed, created, and exchanged ideas. This environment contributed to the emergence and intense expansion of this new wave of aesthetics.
The exhibition also features artwork by other leading artists from that era. Big names such as Keith Haring, Jenny Holzer, and Lady Pink can be appreciated. Another remarkable aspect is the insight that each visitor can gain into the creation process behind the remarkably large canvases brought to life by both Basquiat and Warhol. In Warhol, Basquiat found a mentor, and in Basquiat, Warhol found the will and inspiration to paint again. Warhol would initiate their paintings by printing an image of a brand or by painting a loose figure of someone/something recognizable. This action would then be followed by Basquiat’s passionate intervention, during which he added writings, characters, faces, and icons, among other elements.
One particularly striking piece is “Ten punching bags”, as indicated in the title, this piece is composed of ten boxing bags that were first interceded by Warhol, who painted his version of Jesus’ face by Leonardo Da Vinci in “The Last Supper” on each one of them, onto this already powerful support, Basquiat inscribed the word “judge” multiple times. He also adorned the piece by adding little signs and drawings, resulting in a very controversial and powerful piece, that speaks about hypocrisy, violence, racism, and unfairness. On a personal note, this was one of the most touching pieces I came across during my visit.
Besides the wonderful paintings (if you get close enough, you'll be able to appreciate some footsteps that could belong to either Basquiat or Warhol, revealing that they most likely painted on the studio's floor), there's another touching component to this exhibition. I'm referring to the segments that allow us as a visitor to peek into their lives. An entire room is filled with pictures taken by Michael Halsband, depicting both artists wearing boxing outfits. Eventually, one of these pictures was chosen as the cover of their exhibition at Sharazi's gallery. This fantastic room flooded with black and white pictures, stands as a beautiful homage to their lives
In addition to this captivating fragment, there is a room that houses what Warhol referred to as his
“Time Capsules” – objects of significance linked to diverse memories and people from his life. These objects, along with some of Basquiat's personal items such as his color palette, birth certificate, and even a pair of shoes, create a warm atmosphere that will make you feel like a friend of theirs. Alongside these objects, there are pictures taken with Andy Warhol's camera on display. Many familiar faces can be recognized; it's like getting to spend a few minutes hanging out with the stars of New York.
This exhibition, sheltered at the stunning Louis Vuitton Foundation building, allowed me to witness the creative synergy between these two highly successful artists. The opportunity to gaze upon their large paintings felt like an invocation of a dazzling, intense New York. To me, this exhibition serves as a reminder that over the course of time, the potent force of genuine friendship can change and shape our history like nothing else can.