The Art World Is Reevaluating Andy Warhol and Jean-Michel Basquiat’s Controversial Partnership

“Untitled,” a highlight of the duo’s collaboration in the 1980s, could fetch $18 million at auction

Basquiat and Warhol's "Untitled"
Untitled (1984), a collaborative painting by Basquiat and Warhol, is almost 10 feet tall and 13 feet wide. Sotheby's

When Jean-Michel Basquiat and Andy Warhol started working together in 1983, the artists were at very different points in their careers. Basquiat was quickly gaining notoriety for his graffiti art and Neo-Expressionist works, while Warhol had been a Pop Art star for decades. Together, they created about 150 pieces over a two-year period.

One of their most notable pieces was Untitled (1984). This spring, the piece will be the highlight of a Sotheby’s auction in New York, where it could sell for an estimated $18 million.

“It’s like a call-and-response in some way,” Lucius Elliott, Sotheby’s head of contemporary marquee auctions in New York, tells Abby Schultz of Barron’s. “It’s this sort of dance between the two of them. And there’s something competitive about it as well, in terms of their iconography, in terms of what they’re each putting down.”

Untitled is almost 10 feet tall and 13 feet wide. Basquiat, 24, and Warhol, 56, took turns adding to the piece, never working simultaneously. In a statement from Sotheby’s, Elliott describes the work as a “masterpiece of juxtaposition and contradiction: the cool, mechanical restraint of Warhol’s imagery, overlaid with Basquiat’s anarchic energy and freewheeling technique.”

Jean-Michel Basquiat and Andy Warhol
Basquiat and Warhol during their brief collaboration in the 1980s Ron Galella / Ron Galella Collection via Getty Images

Warhol went first, covering the canvas with sports imagery like baseball mitts, tennis rackets and sneakers. Next, Basquiat painted his “signature swathes of color, jagged scrawl and totemic heads bearing toothsome grins and spiky hair,” per the auction house. Pop artist Keith Haring witnessed the pair at work, calling their collaboration “seemingly effortless.”

“It was a physical conversation happening in paint instead of words,” he said. The resulting pieces seemed like the work of a “third, distinctive and unique mind.”

When the duo unveiled their joint creations in 1985, their work was widely panned. New York Times art critic Vivien Raynor accused Warhol of using the young Basquiat to bolster his reputation and reestablish his significance, while the young artist “[came] across as the all too willing accessory.” The poor reviews damaged the pair’s friendship and ended their collaboration.

Both artists died before the end of the decade—Warhol in 1987 and Basquiat in 1988. In recent years, the art world has started to reevaluate the pair’s unique relationship.

In 2022, The Collaboration, a play about the artists’ work together, debuted on London’s West End, eventually traveling to Broadway. Last year, a retrospective called “Basquiat x Warhol: Painting Four Hands” opened at the Fondation Louis Vuitton in Paris.

Warhol x Basquiat: The Collaboration at Sotheby's this Spring 2024

“In 1985, the critical reception failed to see the true artistic vision of what is undoubtedly the most important artistic collaboration of the 20th century,” says Grégoire Billault, Sotheby’s chairman of contemporary art, in the statement. “Nearly 40 years later, the collaborative works are now, rightfully, seen as a landmark and an integral part of both artists’ bodies of work, synthesizing their contrasting styles and visions with total iconoclasm.”

The $18 million price tag doesn’t come close to either artist’s most expensive individual paintings ($195 million and $110.5 million for Warhol and Basquiat, respectively). But if all goes well, Untitled will become the pair’s most expensive collaborative work. That title is currently held by 1985’s Zenith, which fetched $11.3 million in 2014.

“It really is the apex of their collaboration,” Elliott tells ARTnews’ Daniel Cassady. “By 1984, they had been working together for a year. They’d grown comfortable enough to push and pull on the canvas. Things were obliterated. Things were created. But both artists fully exist on the canvas, working in their different vernaculars of the same subject matter.”

Untitled will go on view in Hong Kong and London in April before returning to New York for the sale in May.

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