In 2005, you could buy a Banksy for a few hundred pounds: a screenprint, Rat, sold at Bonhams for £400 ($767). This April, his spray-painting Space Girl and Bird sold for £288,000 ($570,000). But Banksy’s rise from street artist to gallery star, embraced by the commercial art world, is by no means unique.
Born in Brooklyn to Haitian and Puerto Rican parents, Jean-Michel Basquiat, a high school drop-out with no art training, started his career at 17 by spray painting graffiti on the Manhattan subway. By his death from a heroin overdose in 1988 aged 27, his work had been the subject of a series of exhibitions, from his inclusion in the 1983 Whitney Biennial to shows with Mary Boone and Larry Gagosian, plus international surveys at the Boijmans van Beuningen, Rotterdam (1984), and at the Kestner-Gesellschaft museum, Hanover (1987). His reputation in the market was confirmed in New York this May when an untitled 1981 work sold for $14.6m.
Deitch Projects/Charta’s publication Jean-Michel Basquiat 1981: the Studio of the Street focuses on a crucial period, the year Basquiat came off the street and hired his first studio space, supported by dealer Annina Nosei. Within three years, he was a friend of Andy Warhol’s, dating Madonna, and the crown prince of the 1980s New York art scene. Through pictures and conversations between artists, curators and dealers who knew the artist, this book looks at the darker side of Basquiat’s success, the impact of celebrity and the effect of the market on an artist who came to hate both.
o Jeffrey Deitch and Diego Cortez, Jean-Michel Basquiat 1981: the Studio of the Street (Deitch Projects/Charta), 248pp, £39.99, ISBN: 978-88-8158-625-7
Originally appeared in The Art Newspaper as 'Basquiat did it first'