The king of the streets: Basquiat X Louis Vuitton

POSTED: Saturday, December 22, 2018



The Louis Vuitton Foundation is currently hosting two seminal retrospectives honouring the life works of Jean-Michel Basquiat and Egon Schiele. These two giants of the twentieth-century altered forever the art world. Their distinctive aesthetics and revolutionary techniques have shaped style and design ever since, and the Louis Vuitton Foundation pays a stunning tribute to the gifts they have bestowed upon art and fashion. The two exhibitions encapsulate one of the four central themes of the Foundation: the subjective and individual vision of the artist. 



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The exhibition spans Basquiat’s career as a painter from 1980-1988. Focused around 135 seminal works, his work is presented over almost 2,500 square metres across four floors. It represents a historical moment, with works previously unseen in Europe brought together for the first time. Titles include Obnoxious Liberals (1982), In Italian (1983), and Riding with Death (1988). It also marks the first time that the Heads have all been assembled since they were painted in 1981-2. 






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Born in New York in 1960, Basquait’s first studio was the textured, messy and chaotic Lower East Side of the late 70s. Under the pseudonym SAMO, Basquiat tagged poetic, subversive and political messages across building and alleyways. In 1980, his friendships with Andy Warhol, Francesco Clemente and Keith Haring led to a shift from graffiti to painting. Basquait represents an explosive meeting of influences. Always intellectually rigorous, his subjects range from Malcolm X to Homer to Napoleon. He was fascinated by Hip-Hop and its collaged texture, an influence that is apparent in the layered, cut and scratched nature of his work. Jazz, voodoo, Beethoven and Picasso all add richness to his eclectic works. The more you look the more you see.  



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Basquait was painfully aware of the absence of black artists in the museums and galleries he frequented. African American culture, race relations, freedom fighters and police brutality feature heavily in his work. He was both politically and artistically ahead of his time. Basquiat pre-empted the cut-and-paste nature of today’s aesthetic by using photocopying alongside acrylic, spray-paint, screen printing, drawing and collage to construct his distinctive style. Throughout this eclectic muddle of influence and material, certain symbols and motifs make the work distinctly his. The skull and the crown are two of his most recognisable icons, now a staple of contemporary culture. Basquiat’s influence was particularly clear at this years Paris Fashion Week, with its Street-obsessed and logo-heavy designs. 









The similarities between Basquait and Schiele are artistically fascinating and culturally significant. the Louis Vuitton Foundation has created an incredible and rare opportunity to compare the two global influencers. At the opposite end of the twentieth-century, Schiele broke with the Academy and trailblazed a more chaotic and visceral approach to painting. Like Basquiat, it took less than ten years for Schiele to alter forever the course of art history. Living in the culturally rich environment of turn-of-the-century Vienna, among giants like Klimpt and Munch, Schiele created a chaotic, unaffected and often painful expression, the texture of which was a likely influence of Basquait. As Suzanne Pagé, artistic director of the Foundation said, both artists rightly “saw themselves as prophets of art” and possessed “extravagant virtuosity.”



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