Jean-Michel Basquiat, Neptune (around 1979-81) (Image: © Nicole Neenan, courtesy of The Bishop Gallery)
A controversial collection of more than 30 works created by Jean-Michel Basquiat when he was homeless and possibly using drugs are on public display for the first time, at the X Contemporary satellite fair (until 4 December). The group of paintings, drawings and collages was created between 1979 and 1981 in the Manhattan apartment of Basquiats friend Lonny Lichtenberg, a well-known drug dealer also known as Neptune, King of the C (cocaine).
Al Diaz, the curator of the show, who was part of the Samo graffiti collective along with Basquiat, says that the works tell a hidden story. There were a lot of drugs and a dark side to that lifestyle, he says. Works of art were often exchanged by artists for drugs.
Diaz, himself a former addict, says that the Basquiat estate is averse to anything drug-related and will probably disregard the works. The collection has not been authenticated because the Basquiat authentication committee was disbanded in 2012, says a spokesman for the fair. The estate did not respond to requests for comment.
The works, many of them sketches of heads, were created using cheap materials such as pencil and crayon on paper or rough wooden blocks. They were done at a time when Basquiat didnt have a studio, which makes them more authentic, in my view, Diaz says. According to the curator, Lichtenberg sold the works to a friend three decades ago and they have only been seen by a handful of people. They are available through Brooklyns Bishop Gallery; prices range from $150,000 to $3m.