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Untitled (Peso Neto)
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Untitled (Peso Neto)
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About the object

Jean-Michel Basquiat (1960-1988)\nUntitled (Peso Neto)\nsigned and dated 'Jean M B 82' (on the reverse)\nacrylic and oilstick on canvas mounted on canvas\n55¾ x 38¼ in. (141.6 x 97.1 cm.)\npainted in 1982
US
NY, US
US

notes

Jean-Michel Basquiat's unique artistic language--an intoxicating mix of expressive color, enigmatic symbols and rapidly scrawled codes--has come to define one of the most innovative and exciting periods of post-war art. By the early 1980s, the Pop revolution was almost a generation old and the taciturn formality of Minimalism had left the new generation of young artists out in the cold. Economic hard times and the breakdown of social norms had left many American cities in a state of what seemed like terminal decline and a new generation of artists emerged that reflect these turbulent times. Paramount amongst these was the young artist Jean-Michel Basquiat, who used the language of street art to articulate the zeitgeist of the times. In Untitled (Peso Neto) the artist assembles an eclectic assortment words, symbols and drawings of that becomes a portrait of sorts, not only of the artist but also of the times in which he lived.

From his interest in anatomy, to his iconic crowns and his expressive use of line and color, Basquiat translates his own life experiences and his observations of the city around him and turns them into a celebrated form of high art. The crown was one of the most important symbols in Basquiat's art, and here he uses it to anchor the composition. From the large gleaming red and gold crown that sits at the pinnacle of this particular painting, to the triumvirate of three smaller crowns that anchor the bottom of the composition, Basquiat used the crown to impart a sense of identity to his work, so much so that it almost became a self-styled signature in his work. In addition the crowns also mandate a level of respect due to their historical and political associations and their connotations with royalty, superiority, and preciousness.

The personal aspect of autobiography extends to the use of anatomy and body parts throughout the painting. From the severed hand to the highly-stylized bones. In a sense, Basquiat has created a new form of portraiture by using signs, motifs, words, and body parts in order to construct the human psyche. The science of anatomy was a very important subject to the artist who had been hospitalized due to a car accident at the age of seven. During his recovery from a broken arm and internal injuries, his mother gave him a copy of Gray's Anatomy, a standard text book used by both medical and art students, and the images and information lingered in his fascination with sketching, labeling, and identifying. In Untitled (Peso Neto), the severed hand and the caricature of the eye and the bones of the human body all act as signifiers of a body which he uses to adorn the canvas as he reconstructs his own persona and breaks down the issues of society for the viewer. Interspersed with these symbols are a selection of words and phrases including "left hand" and "peso neto" (which translates from the Spanish as "Net Weight"), which Basquiat absorbed from the visual language of signage and advertising that he saw around him on the streets. Basquiat's self-revelation and cultural attitude can be found amidst the themes of his personal symbolism in the spontaneous precision of the painting's brush strokes. Representative of his former life within the grime and graffiti of New York City streets, Basquiat uses fast-drying acrylic material to present a spontaneous façade of Art Brut sensibility. He conceptually combines text and image for an enigmatic message of both academic art historical discourse as well as the popular culture of graffiti design. Like Andy Warhol and Roy Lichtenstein, Basquiat took his inspiration from what he saw around him and was also interested in the incorporation of consumer culture in the form of comic books and cartoons for the furthering of mass appeal and invitation of low art into high culture. However, he used the sociopolitical subtexts differently than the Pop artists' playful message by delving into their remarks on the American institutionalization of racism and prejudice. Furthermore, he flaunted a freedom of expression in his style that differs greatly from the mechanical, reproductive aesthetic of Pop art.

Basquiat's unique aesthetic style comes in part from his rich cultural heritage. Born to middle-class Haitian and Puerto-Rican parents in Brooklyn, he discovered his love for art as a teenager. He dropped out of school to follow his passion, often seeking inspiration at the Brooklyn Museum with its renowned ethnographic collection of African, Asian and Latin American art. Having given up on a formal education, Basquiat lived on a succession of friend's couches and reveled in the vibrant New York downtown scene of the early 1980s. This peripatetic lifestyle allowed him to absorb the raw energy of his surroundings and incorporate them into his art, resulting in a totally new form of visual language. As Jeffrey Deitch pointed out in 1992, "Basquiat's great strength is his ability to merge his absorption of imagery from the streets, the newspapers, and TV with the spiritualism of his Haitian heritage, injecting both into a marvelously intuitive understanding of the language of modern painting" (J. Deitch, quoted in M. Franklin Sirmans, "Chronology" in R. Marshall, ed., Jean-Michel Basquiat, exh. cat., Whitney Museum of American Art, New York, 1992, p. 239).

Epic in scale, yet intensely personal in nature, the artist's proficient hand is able to convey a dazzling range of ideas in concise fashion. Artist, poet and cultural flâneur Basquiat possessed a remarkable talent to capture the zeitgeist of his age. As Marc Meyer, the curator of the artist's Brooklyn Museum retrospective observed, "He papers over all other voices but his own, hallucinating total control of his proprietary information as if he were the author of all he transcribed, every diagram, every formula, every cartoon character--even affixing his own copyright symbol to countless artifacts of nature and civilization to stress the point" (M. Meyer, "Basquiat in History" in Basquiat, exh. cat., Brooklyn Museum of Art, London and New York, 2005, p. 48).

title

Untitled (Peso Neto)

medium

Acrylic and oilstick on canvas mounted on canvas

signed

Signed and dated 'Jean M B 82' (on the reverse)

creator

Jean-Michel Basquiat

keywords

Jean-Michel Basquiat , 20th Century, Paintings, United States of America, Contemporary

department

IMPRESSIONIST & MODERN ART

dimensions

55¾ x 38¼ in. (141.6 x 97.1 cm.)

provenance

René Ricard, New York.

Private collection, New York; sale, Christie's, New York, 9 November 2005, lot 579.

Jan Krugier, acquired at the above sale.


*Note that the price is not recalculated to the current value, but refers to the actual final price at the time the product was sold.

*Note that the price is not recalculated to the current value, but refers to the actual final price at the time the product was sold.


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