Jean Michel Basquiat Painting Primed To Reach $30m At Christie’s


The upcoming May evening sales in New York at Christie’s have unveiled their centrepiece for the 21st-century evening sale: Jean-Michel Basquiat’s iconic 1982 painting, “The Italian Version of Popeye Has No Pork In His Diet.”

This work is estimated to fetch around $30 million. Basquiat’s unparalleled artistic vision and cultural significance are exemplified by part of a series featuring tied-together wooden supports onto which a canvas has been mounted; the painting spans a generous 60-inch square canvas, offering a mesmerising tableau of Basquiat’s distinctive style.

Upon closer examination, the canvas unveils a blend of figures, numbers, shapes, and crossed-out words, inviting viewers into Basquiat’s enigmatic world. Adorned with three of Basquiat’s iconic crowns, the composition references sports and comic books and nods to the complexities of human anatomy, symbolised by the presence of a skullcap-less head and a severed foot.

The inclusion of Popeye in the title adds a layer of whimsy to the piece, hinting at Basquiat’s playful approach to storytelling and his penchant for blending pop culture iconography with deeper philosophical themes. Indeed, “The Italian Version of Popeye Has No Pork in His Diet” is a vibrant nod to Basquiat’s ability to weave disparate elements into a cohesive and thought-provoking narrative.

With its bold colours, dynamic composition, and layered symbolism, this painting encapsulates the essence of Basquiat’s oeuvre, offering viewers a glimpse into the artist’s complex psyche and power. As one of the most celebrated figures of the contemporary art world, Basquiat continues to attract audiences with his unparalleled talent and visionary spirit.

Christie’s strategic decision to showcase “The Italian Version of Popeye Has no Pork in His Diet” as a centrepiece of its upcoming evening sale underscores the painting’s rarity and significance within the broader context of contemporary art. With its estimated value reflecting the escalating demand for Basquiat’s work, the auction presents a unique and exclusive opportunity for collectors and enthusiasts alike to acquire a piece of art history.

In the urban decay of New York City in the late 1970s and early 1980s, amidst the dissonant yell of punk rock, the rise of hip-hop beats, and the vibrant street art scene, emerged a singular figure who would leave a universal mark on the art world—Jean-Michel Basquiat.

Born in Brooklyn in 1960 to a Haitian father and Puerto Rican mother, Basquiat’s upbringing was marked by multicultural influences that defined the city’s urban milieu. Raised amid racial tensions and socioeconomic disparities, he found solace and inspiration in the streets, where graffiti adorned every surface and creativity thrived amidst adversity.

His artistic travels began on the streets of Manhattan’s Lower East Side, where he first gained recognition under the pseudonym “SAMO,” short for “Same Old Shit.” His cryptic and provocative graffiti tags, often accompanied by enigmatic phrases and symbols, captured the attention of passersby and garnered him a cult following among the downtown art scene.

But his transition from the streets to the canvas would catapult Basquiat into the realm of contemporary art superstardom. Drawing upon his urban experiences, African American heritage, and comprehensive knowledge of art history, Basquiat’s paintings became a visual symphony of colour, line, and text, imbued with raw emotion and social commentary.

With his frenetic brushstrokes and iconic imagery – from crowns and skulls to fragmented figures and cryptic words – Basquiat challenged conventional notions of art and identity, blurring the boundaries between high and low culture, street and gallery, and past and present.
Basquiat collaborated with fellow artists, musicians, and filmmakers throughout his brief but prolific career, including his close friend and mentor, Andy Warhol. Together, they navigated the heady world of downtown New York, where art and celebrity converged in a whirlwind of creativity and excess.

With inner demons and the pressures of stardom, Basquiat’s meteoric rise to success was accompanied by personal struggles with addiction and mental health issues, ultimately leading to his tragic death from a drug overdose at the age of 27.

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