Jean-Michel Basquiat’s life and career veered expeditiously in November 1982 when he left his first art dealer Annina Nosei and the cushy studio space in her gallery’s basement in favor of a solo show at plucky FUN Gallery, which erupted from the East Village punk scene. He was on the cusp of superstardom, coveted by art world power brokers Bruno Bischofberger in Zurich and Larry Gagosian in Los Angeles.
The work he created that year is arguably his best, exploding with youthful exuberance, a reckless abandon that’s now recognized as unrivaled mastery.
An overflow crowd poured into FUN Gallery, where Portrait of the Artist as a Young Derelict, three conjoined panels that simultaneously serve as self-portrait and altarpiece, and See Plate 3, an acrylic, oil, and oilstick on canvas and wood construction sculpture, both executed in 1982 went on public view.
The works were reunited today in a display at Christie’s New York ahead of the 21st Century Evening Sale on May 10. It’s worth a visit to see them for free in Rockefeller Center, paired in their own space, as it may be the last time they are shown together in public. The monumental triptych and the sculpture are expected to fetch $30 million and between $4 million and $6 million, respectively.
“They’re both incredibly rare things to see. They have been in the same collection for decades,” Ana Maria Celis, senior vice president, senior specialist, and head of 21st Century Evening Sale, said at a press preview this morning. “The painting was purchased in 1985 and it remained the same collection ever since. This piece in particular has been widely referenced in all the major Basquiat books, because it really is a very important early work by Basquiat. It was done in 1982 and first shown at the FUN Gallery.”
Portrait of the Artist as a Young Derelict, created in Basquiat’s Crosby Street studio, incorporates his three-pointed crowns, anatomical studies, and provocative text, magnified by gestural brushstrokes. The acrylic, oil, oilstick, and hardware on hinged wood construction was a highlight of major retrospectives, including the Brooklyn Museum (2005-2006), Fondation Beyeler and Musée d’Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris (2010-2011), and Fondation Louis Vuitton (2018-2019). It goes on the block for the first time, after being held by Galerie Mostini in Paris since 1995.
Basquiat’s friend Keith Haring acquired See Plate 3 from Basquiat, and it was sold to Syrian-Israeli billionaire and art collector before it was acquired by Galerie Jérôme de Noirmont in Paris in 1999.The handmade canvas box propped on a constructed wooden podium was prominently displayed in the apartment Haring shared with his partner, deejay Juan Dubose.
The sculpture underscores the derelict theme, emblazoned with brazen and flippant phrases: “HEAD OF A FRYER”’ a diagram of the New York City kids’ street game skelly court, “HICE[ST]TREX,” which is Latin for “Here is the King,” and a Roman belt buckle that’s repeated in the triptych. “PODIUM” is scrawled on the base, along with “SARCGPUGUS OF A PHYSICIAN,” as well as a repetition of “HICE [ST] REX.”
Viewed together, the triptych and sculpture confuse, amuse, and astound, exemplifying the enduring legacy and appeal of Basquiat.
“What I love about this is that they both really show the play on words,” said Celis.