How Baselitz and Basquiat Ruled the Years 1981 and 1982 in New York

February 21, 2020

Much was written about the social and cultural circumstances in New York during the 1980s, a narrative that would be hard to imagine without the iconic visual artists such as Georg Baselitz and Jean-Michel Basquiat.

However, it is still important to underline that during the first couple of years of this decade there was a significant growth of the art market, so the phenomenon called the return to painting, to which the mentioned painters belonged, was more than welcomed by the wealthy collectors and privately owned galleries. Such an atmosphere coincided with the flourishing practices by Baselitz and Basquiat and enabled them to express their potential to the full extent by producing even more fierce than before.

Therefore, the current exhibition at Skarstedt Gallery focuses on the short period between 1981 and 1982 when both artists reached a peak in their oeuvres and received international attention. At that time, Baselitz was already a prominent figure in Europe, while Basquiat was an artistic newbie in America, facts that nicely illustrate their positions in the art world at that time.

The works these outstanding painters made at the time are characterized by an exceptional intuitive expression and severe contemporaneity, an authentic visual language rooted in their understanding of their respective cultural modes and broader social and even political contexts.

Georg Baselitz - Drinker
Georg Baselitz - Drinker, 1981. Oil on canvas, 51 x 38.3 inches (129.5 x 97.3 cm). © Georg Baselitz. Courtesy of the artist

Two Painters In a Dialog

The paintings by Baselitz and Basquiat on display in New York were featured in some of the most important exhibitions of the 1980s, such as the Documenta 7 in 1982, a biennial international survey of contemporary art where Basquiat was the youngest exhibitor. One of his three canvases that were shown at this particular exhibition was Arroz con Pollo (1981) that is shown with this exhibition. The same year Basquiat participated in Documenta, his inaugural New York show happened at Annina Nosei Gallery, after having a well-received solo exhibition at Galleria d’Arte Emilio Mazzoli in Modena in 1981; in just these two years, the artist made some of his most acclaimed paintings and gained international fame.

On the other hand, Baselitz’s international exposure culminated with his first solo exhibition in New York at Xavier Fourcade Gallery (1981), as well as two seminal exhibitions A New Spirit in Painting (1981) and Zeitgeist (1982), both co-curated by Christos Joachimedes and Norman Rosenthal. Baselitz’s signature morphed representations of the figure in a highly dramatic manner were well accepted not only by the audience and the collectors but by the critique as well.

Jean-Michel Basquiat - Untitled
Jean Michel Basquiat - Untitled, 1981. Acrylic, oilstick and spray paint on canvas, 78 1/2 x 72 inches (199.4 x 182.9 cm). © Estate of Jean-Michel Basquiat. Licensed by Artestar, NY. Private Collection

Baselitz and Basquiat at Skarstedt

Alongside the domains of these masters, the current show will subtly cast a light on New York in the 1980s, a shifting period when the city was simultaneously colored by the incredible activity of the art scene affiliated with the alternative lifestyles and socio-political awareness, and the consolidation of the art market and the rise of capital.

Baselitz / Basquiat: 1981 - 1982 will be on display at Skarstedt Gallery in New York until 4 April 2020.

Featured image: Exhibition poster for Baselitz Basquiat 1981-1982 at Skarstedt. All images courtesy the gallery.

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