By Reagan Carraway
Two men, four hands, and numerous masterpieces that would alter the modern artscape forever. Andy Warhol and Jean-Michel Basquiat are entering a modern (art) Renaissance and through August 28, Fondation Louis Vuitton is acting as the palace for the largest ever exhibition of two kings of 20th century art: “À Quatre Mains”.
The exhibition captures the magnitude of the short, but significant relationship of Warhol and Basquiat, who created some 160 works together from 1984 to 1985. Art dealer and curator Bruno Bischofberger first introduced them in 1982, playing matchmaker for the two artists he believed had things to learn from one another. Warhol and Basquiat’s first professional collaboration, a three-way series with Italian artist Francesco Clemente, evolved into a double-team fellowship that remained under the radar long enough for Bischofberger to feel embarrassed for being kept out of the loop. However, the secrecy of the partnership seems to prove what is felt in the joint works: authenticity flowed between them.
“A conversation occurring through painting, instead of words”, Pop art contemporary and mutual friend Keith Haring said of the collaboration. “The sense of humor which permeates all of the works recalls the laughter which surrounded them while they were being made. They are truly an invention of what William S. Burroughs called “The Third Mind” – two amazing minds fusing together to create a third, totally separate and unique mind.” (Keith Haring, “Painting the Third Mind”, 1988.)
Although the resurgence of their popularity and overall regard of their incredible careers would suggest otherwise, the Warhol/Basquiat crossover has not always been so “in vogue”. Back in 1985, the Tony Shafrazi Gallery hosted Warhol and Basquiat’s very first collaborative exhibition. But the show was a bust, making nickels and dimes in return and leaving a trail of less-than-favorable reviews. Now, it’s near impossible to discern why the pas-de-deux was overlooked and the iconic boxing-match-themed advertisement for that same 1985 show hangs in this new Paris exhibition proudly, saying “Look what you made me do”. It’s safe to say that this show is the duo’s version of Taylor Swift’s Reputation album.
Co-curators Anna Karina Hofbauer and Dieter Bucchart have assembled a whopping 300 of Warhol and Basquiat’s works and documents to include 80 collaborative canvases. Featured are African Mask, Taxi Driver, Dos Cabezas, and Wood, a nine-foot canvas that Revolver Gallery owned as recently as October 2020. Individual pieces and art from contemporaries (including Keith Haring, Jenny Holzer, Futura 2000, Michael Halsband, and Kenny Scharf) are also gracing Fondation Louis Vuitton.
Media and personal challenges would lead to the demise of the Basquiat and Warhol association very shortly before both of their tragic and untimely deaths (Warhol in 1987 and Basquiat in 1988). But in their wake was left modern art’s version of a photo album, a portfolio of two diverging styles of modern art intersecting with divine timing. The Warhol x Basquiat legacy is an emblematic illustration of 1980’s New York and an unforgettable kinship.