When Warhol met Basquiat

A New York art prodigy whose creativity and influence transcends generations, Artimage catches up with Assistant Curator Lotte Johnson for the Barbican's exhibition of Jean-Michel Basquiat, Basquiat: Boom for Real.

When Warhol met Basquiat

A major exhibition of Basquiat’s work in over 20 years

The Barbican’s work on Boom for Real began two years ago, after Co-Curator Eleanor Nairne had proposed, as part of a group of curators, to showcase Basquiat’s works in London. Lotte tells us that the UK hasn’t seen a major exhibition of Basquiat’s work in over 20 years, and the Barbican team successfully included over 100 works in the new exhibition, ranging from Basquiat’s early graffiti work in the late 1970s to his later collaborations with artists including Andy Warhol and Keith Haring.

She explains that the curators, including Vienna-based Curator Dr. Dieter Buchhart, who has worked on key Basquiat exhibitions over the last decade, wanted the exhibition to resituate Basquiat within New York’s downtown arts scene, which the exhibition beautifully echoes.

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A chance encounter in Soho

Talking about Basquiat’s early beginnings, Lotte reveals to us that together with another young artist, Jennifer Stein, the artist created vibrant collages, which he photocopied and reproduced to create series of postcards that he would later sell for $1 each in the street. 

From an early age, Basquiat was a big fan of Andy Warhol - he owned and avidly read his book – and Warhol had a big influence on the young artist throughout his career. While selling his postcards in Soho in 1979, Basquiat and Stein spotted Warhol at lunch with art critic Henry Geldzahler.

Very excited, Basquiat immediately went into the restaurant to try to sell them some of the cards. While Geldzahler rejected Basquiat as being too young and sent him away, Warhol bought a postcard depicting one of Basquiat’s sunglass motifs. A few years later it would be Geldzahler interviewing Basquiat as one the biggest emerging artists in the New York art scene. 

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Warhol was impressed with the speed at which Basquiat painted

Lotte explains that it was several years later in 1982 when Basquiat and Warhol met properly. Basquiat’s dealer Bruno Bischofberger took him to Warhol’s factory for a photoshoot, during which both artists took polaroids of each other. Basquiat then was invited for lunch but declined, saying that he had to return to his studio to work.

Later that afternoon, his studio assistant returned to the factory with a freshly painted portrait of both artists, Dos Cabezas, a portrait also featured in the Barbican exhibition. Warhol wrote in his diary about how impressed he was with the speed at which Basquiat had painted the piece, the ultimate accolade from the pop artist. Lotte tells us that it was from here that their relationship and friendship grew quickly. 

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Warhol returns to painting

Over the short amount of time they knew each other, both artists shared much respect for each other and both had a huge impact on each other’s practices. Lotte reveals to us that in fact, it was Basquiat who convinced Warhol to return to painting by hand.

In the early 1980s, Warhol was working a lot with silk screen, but when the two of them started to collaborate, Basquiat was instrumental in convincing Warhol to go back to painting, as can be seen in their Arm and Hammer II collaboration, also on display at the Barbican now.

She explains that adding to the household brand’s logo, Basquiat painted an image of saxophonist Charlie Parker, one of Basquiat’s artistic heroes. Basquiat transformed Andy Warhol’s painting of the Arm & Hammer logo into a dynamic image of black creativity; a wonderful example of their collaboration.

Boom for Real pulls together a great range of archival materials that brings Basquiat and Warhol’s friendship to life, including postcards the artists wrote to each other, drawings, notes and more. 

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Find out more

Alongside the intimate look at the life and friendship of Basquiat and Warhol, the new exhibition also explores Basquiat’s source materials. Lotte reveals that Basquiat was obsessed with symbols and how they conveyed meaning. He used an encyclopedic range of reference points, including bebop jazz, silent cinema, early-morning cartoons, Egyptian mythology, art history, roman history, black cultural history and much more. He absorbed a huge range of cultural information in his works. 

On now, the exhibition creates a fantastic opportunity for visitors to explore Basquiat’s life and work, before the exhibition will travel to Frankfurt’s Schirn Kunsthalle in 2018. Basquiat: Boom for Real, is co-curated by Eleanor Nairne and Dr. Dieter Buchhart and is open until 28 January 2018. Find out more here.

Lotte Johnson works as an Assistant Curator at the Barbican, including its main art gallery as well as The Curve gallery, designed to showcase new contemporary commissions. 

Thanks to the Andy Warhol Foundation for Visual Arts for providing a collection of images of Jean-Michel Basquiat by Andy Warhol, available on Artimage in time for ‘Boom for Real’.

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Image from top: Jean-Michel Basquiat, 1982, Andy Warhol © The Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts, Inc. / DACS/Artimage 2017; Jean-Michel Basquiat and Keith, 1984, Andy Warhol © The Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts, Inc. / DACS/Artimage 2017; Jean-Michel Basquiat, 1984, Andy Warhol © The Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts, Inc. / DACS/Artimage 2017; Andy Warhol, 1979, Andy Warhol © The Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts, Inc. / DACS/Artimage 2017; Jean-Michel Basquiat and Keith, 1984, Andy Warhol © The Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts, Inc. / DACS/Artimage 2017.