A Survey of Jean-Michel Basquiat Ephemera: 1981–88

Similar to the way paintings by Jean-Michel Basquiat have played a key role in the frenzy surrounding contemporary high-end art auctions, the same is happening in the more limited market of vintage contemporary art ephemera. The cards, posters and publications that feature Basquiat and chart the important moments in his short career are among the most coveted examples of this new category of art collectible.

Over the years Gallery 98 has handled some of the best examples of Basquiat ephemera. Most of these items have already sold but since we are a research site for art historians, as well as an online gallery for collectors, we often leave sold items posted on the site. This online exhibition features these, as well as items still in our inventory; our goal is to provide an easily accessible survey of important Basquiat ephemera. The fifty-seven Basquiat items featured here do not comprise a complete collection of the printed ephemera produced during his life. They do however give a good idea of his career highlights and of the group exhibitions that he participated in alongside other artists in his milieu.

Of special note are the early Basquiat items from the time he still exhibited under the name Samo. The poster for New York New Wave organized by Diego Cortez at PS1 (1981) provides full documentation of the downtown peer group from which he emerged. Cortez also helped arrange Basquiat’s first one-person show at Galleria d’Arte Emilio Mazzoli, in Modena Italy (1981). Although it was Cortez who addressed the invitation card sent to Curt Hoppe (another artist in the New York New Wave exhibition), it was Basquiat himself who added the drawing of a crown. The catalogue for the exhibition Pressure to Paint at Marborough Gallery (1982) further attests to Cortez’s importance during the early part of Basquiat’s career. Here Basquiat advanced into the top tier of the art world exhibiting alongside the American Neo-Expressionist Julian Schnabel and European counterparts like Anselm Kiefer, Georg Baselitz, Francesco Clemente and Enzo Cucchi.

Basquiat’s exhibition at the Vrej Baghoomian Gallery in April 1988 received mixed reviews and was far from the gala events of earlier openings. Just a few months later Basquiat died tragically of a drug overdose at the age of 27. A private funeral was attended only by family and close friends;  around three hundred  people attended a memorial gathering at St. Peter’s Church in November. His friend, the artist Fred Braithwaite, noted “Jean-Michel lived like a flame… the fire went out. But the embers are still hot.” Few then would have predicted how hot and how long-burning those embers would turn out to be.

Photo of Jean-Michel Basquiat from an automatic photobooth sized to conform with Italian passport regulations, Rome, c. 1985. Private collection.

From the Collection