When I first heard, I was thrilled, but then I thought …
“Wait a minute!”
More on that in a moment.
Jean-Michel Basquiat has become the first American artist and first African-American artist whose work has sold for more than $100 million; $110.5 million at Sotheby’s auction to be exact.
What’s more, a Japanese billionaire bought the work in question; the Brooklyn-born artist’s “Untitled” skull painting completed in 1982. As of this writing, May 18, 2017, it’s the sixth most expensive work sold at auction.
All I can think is … “Go! Basquiat! Go!”
I mean, for a black artist – or any artist really - to rise from nothing to the top of the art world is quite an achievement.
Now, the not so good news …
Basquiat died of a drug overdose six years after he completed that landmark painting. He was only 27. And so, he’s yet another artist who didn’t really achieve stellar status until many years after his tragic death. He has no idea what has happened.
Life plays such cruel jokes on artists, doesn’t it? And here’s the thing … unlike people, life doesn’t discriminate.
But here’s something else. Once again, we find ourselves in this situation. We’re talking about a fantastic artist who created a wonderful piece of work that sold for a stupidly-high price. And yes, once again, here I am talking about it and doing what I hate the most … by default, I’m actually aiding and abetting this notion that contemporary art is only for the rich.
This practice actually encourages living artists to think that one day, their wealthy knight in shining armor – also known as a wealthy art collector – is going to come along, be spellbound by their work and pluck them from contemporary art obscurity. While this could happen, you could also win the Powerball Lottery. Sure, be hopeful, but I wouldn’t plan my day around it.
As you well know, I constantly talk about art being for everyone – not only the super-rich or highly cultured. Yet, how can I not celebrate Basquiat? He’s a brother! I’m also from Brooklyn. I feel victorious as well.
Go! Basquiat! Go!
However, despite this stellar news, his life was ultimately tragic. A drug overdose is not a good gig. It’s always better to live for as long as you can.
And here’s what really matters to me … I cannot help but think about the more than 400 artists I’ve interviewed. What about them? Many of them are just as talented as Basquiat and Picasso and Warhol. Why aren’t they getting the press and kudos that they deserve?
Earlier, I said life doesn’t discriminate. Actually, life discriminates BIG time, doesn’t it? That’s just how it is. It’s inexplicable, it’s inconceivable and it’s infuriating.
I don’t know. Let’s have a BIG toast for Basquiat, shall we? And as for all of you living artists who continue to strive day to day?
Keep the faith, keep your eye on the prize and keep going. While nothing is guaranteed, God is full of surprises.