Basquiat × Warhol: à Quatre Mains Fondation Louis Vuitton, Paris – Lee Sharrock

“Basquiat × Warhol

“Basquiat X Warhol:  à Quatre Main” at the Fondation Louis Vuitton in Paris is described as the world’s first ‘four-handed’ retrospective of the iconic artist’s work and brings together more than 300 artworks and documents, including 80 canvases jointly signed by the two artists, as well as a series of paintings created with Francesco Clemente.

The exhibition also features an iconic suite of monochrome photographs taken by Michael Halsband in New York City in 1985, featuring Andy Warhol and Jean-Michel Basquiat in a mock-up of a boxing fight. An image from Halsband’s shoot was used for the iconic invite for a 1985 Warhol and Basquiat exhibition presented by Tony Shafrazi and Bruno Bischofberger in NYC.

Fondation Louis Vuitton presented the “Jean-Michel Basquiat” exhibition in 2018 and continues its exploration of the work of Basquiat with “Basquiat X Warhol: Painting Four Hands”, this time concentrating on his collaboration with Warhol.

Basquiat and Warhol created around 160 paintings together in tandem Between 1984 and 1985, and “à quatre mains” includes some of the largest works produced during their respective careers. Their contemporary Keith Haring once described their collaboration as a “conversation occurring through painting, instead of words,” and of two minds merging to create a “third distinctive and unique mind.”

Pop Art icon Warhol and the then-emerging artist (nicknamed ‘Radiant Child’) Basquiat first met in October 1982 in NYC after being introduced by their mutual art dealer, Bruno Bischofberger. Warhol had already found fame for his screenprints of celebrities, and he found inspiration from the young Basquiat, who in turn looked to Warhol for mentorship. Bischofberger’s polaroid picture of Basquiat and Warhol is exhibited in ‘Painting Four Hands.’ Their creative partnership produced 160 “four-handed” canvases between 1983 to 1985. Warhol and Basquiat are considered two of the most influential artists of the 20th century. 

“Basquiat × Warhol Painting four hands” Fondation Louis Vuitton, Paris - Lee Sharrock
“Basquiat × Warhol Painting four hands” Fondation Louis Vuitton, Paris

Born in 1928 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, Warhol pioneered the Pop Art movement and elevated everyday objects such as soup cans and Coca-Cola bottles to high art status with his screenprints. Basquiat, born in 1960 in Brooklyn, New York, made waves on the NYC art scene for the unique visual language he created and his politically charged and nuanced artworks featuring crowns, skulls, masks and poetry.

Vast canvases by Warhol and Basquiat dominate the huge white cube galleries of the Fondation Louis Vuitton. At the same time, a dimly lit room on an upper level is dedicated to ‘Ten Punching Bags (Last Supper) (198501986), an installation created by the duo using ten boxing punch bags, upon which Warhol painted a stylised portrait of Jesus, and Basquiat wrote the word ‘Judge’ repeatedly in his inimitable handwriting. 

Curator Dieter Buchhart explains in the exhibition catalogue: “The collaboration was intense: Basquiat and Warhol worked on several canvases, sometimes with monumental formats, on many days from “nine to five” and without rules: “We used to paint over each other’s stuff all the time.” Over two years, Warhol and Basquiat created more than 160 collaborations, making up more than a tenth of Basquiat’s painted oeuvre.

On closer inspection, various groups of collaborations can be distinguished: first, Warhol’s hand-painted logos; second, simple motifs by Warhol: dogs, household appliances, or fruit as basic themes; third, his more complex visual creations, like a landscape to which Basquiat responded; fourth, the paintings with headlines provided by Warhol; fifth, works based on Basquiat’s motifs, mostly silkscreens; and the sixth and last group of collaborative works, joint works initiated by Warhol in an incredibly copy-paste style.” 

The exhibition evokes the energy of the New York downtown art scene of the 1980s, with rooms dedicated to other artistic icons of ’80s New York, including; Keith Haring, Futura 2000, and Kenny Scharf, including a graffiti-daubed fridge created by Basquiat with Haring, and a blue vase covered in writing and images by Basquiat, Tseng Kwong Chi, Futura 2000, Keith Haring, Eric Haze, LA II and Kenny Scharf. Musical icons who first found fame on the New York scene of the 80s are featured here, including Basquiat’s one-time girlfriend Madonna, who appears on a ‘New York Post’ cover made into an artwork by Warhol and Haring, with the headline ‘Madonna: I’m not shamed: Rock star shrugs off nudie pix furore’, while a wall of white plates by Basquiat name-checks music and artworld stars including Fab Five Freddie, Man Ray, Matisse, Cezanne and Warhol (depicted with a portrait and the words “Andy Warhol Boy Genius”).

In April, Jay-Z performed at the opening of the exhibition in the Auditorium of the Foundation in an acknowledgement of his love of Basquiat, who he has name-checked in songs and which is documented in a 2021 advert he did for Tiffany & Co. with Beyonce, which prominently featuring Basquiat’s painting ‘Equals Pi’, which sparked a debate about whether the artist had been inspired by the iconic ‘Tiffany Blue’ shade when deciding on the palette for the painting. Jay-Z’s refereeing of the artist is a testament to Basquiat’s enduring legacy and influence on popular culture, and the joint exhibition with Warhol further cements that legacy.

Words and photos Lee Sharrock

Basquiat × Warhol: à Quatre Mains Until 28th August at the Fondation Louis Vuitton

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