A few weeks ago, the worlds of luxury fashion and art collided with a buzz of excitement we haven’t seen much lately, when American ‘royal’ musical couple Beyoncé and Jay-Z made the front page of an advertising campaign for American jeweler Tiffany & Co..
The “About Love” campaign triggered a myriad of mixed feelings and reactions. The internet accelerated, especially as the campaign marked the first time that the iconic 128.54-carat Tiffany diamond had been worn by a black woman.
But before that, there was another reason for the attention. In a show-stealing move, the campaign features a very rare Basquiat painting with a distinctive Robin’s-egg blue background, which incidentally is very similar to Tiffany’s signature tone.
Featured just behind a tuxedoed Jay Z and a regal-looking Beyoncé – both dressed in black – in several visual iterations, the painting is meant to grab attention as the only aspect hinting at the brand’s color.
There have been many marriages between high art and fashion, but the rarity of this 1982 painting, Equal to Pi, and the intrigue of its unusual color gives an added thrill as it is a work of Jean-Michel Basquiat, a name that has aroused lasting veneration in the art world and beyond.
Equal to Pi was created in what many consider the most coveted year of Basquiat’s prolific ten-year career. First appeared in a 1983 issue of GQ magazine, the somewhat obscure piece had been auctioned several times before the Milan-based family of jewelers Sabbadini bought it in 1996. It likely remained in their private living room until last month, when LVMH’s bought for $ 15 million. and $ 20 million, according to the art market website Artnet.
Soon, after shopping around for digital billboards in Times Square, New York, the artwork will find its new home in Tiffany & Co’s Fifth Avenue store, which is currently undergoing renovations.
But what would Basquiat think of all this if he was alive today and continued to make art? Tiffany’s vice president of product and communications, Alexandre Arnault, seems to think he can approve.
“We know he loved New York, loved luxury, and loved jewelry. My guess is [blue painting] is not by chance. The color is so specific that it has to be kind of a tribute, ”he told a fashion publication. Daily women’s clothing.
Well, that wouldn’t be Basquiat’s first foray into fashion, but not so much in his art as in personal interest. Stylish, albeit nonchalant in style, he had a taste for European suits, but he was said to treat those of Armani, Versace and Gucci like overalls, having no qualms about spraying paint on them while he ‘it was working if it happened. wear one. He was also interested in Japanese designers, notably Comme des Garçons by Rei Kawakubo, for whom he paraded for his spring / summer 1987 collection in Paris.
Again, who knows how Basquiat would react, considered an enigma. Even today, decades after his death from a heroin overdose in 1988 at the age of 27, people still read his legacy their own way.
Most would describe him as a young prodigy who went his own way, although the puzzles in the pieces that make up Basquiat – just like his art – can be polarizing and contradictory.
Revered as a genius by some and criticized by others for his “grotesque and childish” art, he was a graffiti artist turned professional painter who favored poetry and jazz as much as hip hop; a very critical rebel of the art market, yet describes his fear of being a “gallery mascot” at one point for his prodigious output and commercial success.
He was said to have dated Madonna, was friends with David Bowie and was well known for his even closer relationship with Andy Warhol – all indications of a man who was at the center of the cultural crossroads of art, music and fashion. in the 1980s, yet not quite belonging to one place.
Basquiat’s art nonetheless embodied the multidisciplinary experimentation of the time, the punk and rebellious spirit which, coupled with his complex and enigmatic character and backstory, had influenced and captured the adoration of a generation. Patrice Vallette, founder, director and curator of the Vallette gallery, remembers hearing about the inspiring story of the young artist as a teenager in 1985.
“I admired his style, the creativity of this self-taught artist… He combined the techniques with so much energy, creating a powerful tension of opposing aesthetic forces,” explains Vallette.
Basquiat’s distinctive neo-expressionism style exuded a spontaneity, raw primitive energy, and urbanity that appealed to far more than the general public. Vallette says it revolutionized the art world and effectively wiped out the minimalism movement. “It changed perceptions of what could be considered art,” he adds.
Malaysian artist Ajim Juxta says it impacted a whole generation of artists who followed. Having seen Boom for real at the Barbican Center in London three years ago – in retrospect – Basquiat’s first large-scale exhibition in London – the KLite says it got him thinking about his approach as an artist.
“Its aesthetic is an obvious heritage for me. Its words and symbolisms are portrayed with such crudeness, and yet, in the chaos, you can see the simplification of ideas. That his works are so adaptable to music, fashion and products is also a testament to their quality and versatility, ”says Ajim.
“Visually, I don’t see my work linked to his. But his processes and approach are interesting to study and follow, especially how he combines different mediums, channels, and creative elements to create something inherently ‘you’.
There is a long trail of documentaries, literature, films and more that delves into the legend of Basquiat – the man and the artist. But Vallette points out the simple truth behind such a glorious legacy. Perhaps the biggest key to his success was that he was incredibly prolific. He worked all day, every day, in his studio. Even when he couldn’t afford a canvas. , he painted on abandoned doors in the street… he had an innate need to create.
Getting back to whether he would appreciate having his painting in a luxury ad campaign like Tiffany’s, an article in Vanity Show recalled a little anecdote from Michael Chow, the founder of Mr Chow’s, a favorite restaurant of Basquiat and his artist friends.
While traveling together to Hong Kong in 1985, Chow was invited by the then manager of Tiffany & Co to dinner. Basquiat accompanied him. In his recollections, Chow said, “I don’t think he [Basquiat] loved my host very much – he was very rebellious and so ordered the most expensive wine, you know it was outrageous, that bottle of wine!
Yet the artist may have truly paid a fleeting tribute to the New York-based brand in Equal to Pi, which takes its name from the incorporated mathematical equations.
Who knows for sure? The legend lives on.
This article first appeared on September 13, 2021 in The Edge Malaysia.