Warhol x Basquiat: A Brief Shining Alchemy

Warhol x Basquiat: A Brief Shining Alchemy

As someone who appreciates both artists, I was eager to visit the Warhol x Basquiat, Painting Four Hands exhibition at the Fondation Vuitton in Paris, featuring the fulgurant duet of the two icons.

The setting is New York in the 80’s. Andy Warhol is established; Jean-Michel Basquiat is rising. For a cerebral sensation who ‘wanted to be a machine’, to mix brushes with a frenetic dynamo who was weary of ‘becoming a gallery mascot’, this match was bound to make sparks fly.

Jean-Michel Basquiat, Dos Cabezas, Dos Cabezas, 1982, © FLV | Private Collection | Photo Guy Boyer

Between 1984 and 1985, they created around 160 joint paintings à quatre mains. One of them would start a canvass, the other would come later and add their part. The Fondation Louis Vuitton is a commanding backdrop for the most important exhibition ever dedicated to this lightning-in-a-bottle moment.

Any Warhol Jean-Michel Basquiat , untitled, view of the exhibition © Sylvia Edwards Davis

The exhibition offers a considered reading, starting with individual works that show the contrast between Warhol’s controlled iconography and Basquiat’s graffiti-inspired expressive muscle. Moving through the rooms, their coproduction starts to unfold sagely, with each artist mostly staying on their side of the canvas. As the two creative forces ignite and challenge each other, Basquiat’s lines start to overlap and cross over –Warhol applies his own hand, as he hadn’t done in years. There is raw emotion and social commentary. ‘I think those paintings we’re doing together are better when you can’t tell who did which parts’, Warhol said.

Andy Warhol Jean-Michel Basquiat, China Paramount, view of the exhibition © Sylvia Edwards Davis

Among the many highlights, besides the outsized works such as the 1984 Olympic Rings or African Mask, and the unexpectedly intimate sculpture Ten Punching Bags (Last Supper), was to browse through the photos, video interviews and other archival material, which offer an extra layer of depth to the exhibition and helped me to understand the context of their exchange, as brief as it was prolific. Soon after, they would both be gone. Warhol, 58, died following surgery in 1987, Basquiat, 27, succumbed to an overdose in 1988. Revisiting their collaboration in Paris almost four decades later, it feels as if they are with us in the room, more present than ever.

Andy Warhol Jean-Michel Basquiat, Ten Punching Bags © Sylvia Edwards Davis

There is a great deal to take in, and each visitor will experience the thoughtfully curated show in a different way. As for me, it was inspiring to witness two separate creative entities serving a higher conversation, or in the words of Keith Haring ‘two minds merging to create a third distinctive and unique mind’.

Basquiat × Warhol, à quatre mains
Fondation Louis Vuitton, Paris
Until August 28, 2023

Frank Gehry – Fondation Louis Vuitton © Photo by Iwan Baan via Flickr

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Sylvia Edwards Davis is a writer and correspondent based in France with a focus on business and culture. A member of the France Media editorial team, Sylvia scans the cultural landscape to bring you the most relevant highlights on current events, art exhibitions, museums and festivals.

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