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Eight rarely seen works by Jean-Michel Basquiat to be reunited in Basel


The Fondation Beyeler in Basel puts a new twist on the Jean-Michel Basquiat story this summer, presenting Basquiat: the Modena Paintings (11 June-27 August) which reunites eight large-scale works made in Modena, Italy, in 1982. The paintings, including The Guilt of Gold Teeth, are now held in eight separate private collections in the US, Asia and Switzerland.

The Italian gallerist Emilio Mazzoli invited Basquiat to make the works for a one-off show, providing work premises and painting supplies. The graffiti artist painted over discarded canvases used by another artist, Mario Schifano, scrawling “Modena” on the back. But complications over payment of the works led to the cancellation of the planned exhibition in Europe.

In a 1985 interview with the New York Times, Basquiat outlined how much he disliked the Modena experience. “They set it up for me so I’d have to make eight paintings in a week”. Meanwhile, working in the provided warehouse premises felt to him “like a factory, a sick factory. I hated it.” The works found new buyers via Basquiat’s New York dealer at the time, Annina Nosei.

The “Modena Paintings” share several motifs and stylistic features according to a Fondation Beyeler statement including “a monumental, often black figure set against a background of broad, gestural and expressive brushstrokes… the human and the animal body take centre stage.”

Sam Keller, the director of the Fondation Beyeler, tells The Art Newspaper: “With every next generation, the importance of Basquiat’s work is increasing further. His combination of images and words referring to high and popular culture, history, science, social and economic injustice was truly ahead of his time and more relevant today than ever. The Modena paintings were created over 40 years ago and have never been shown together before. It’s going to be exciting to finally reunite them.” The average insurance value of each of these works is $100m with the group of eight works totalling $800m.

The market boom for Jean-Michel Basquiat continues with major works by the late US street artist dominating sales season in New York next month. Moon View (1984) from the collection of the late music mogul Mo Ostin goes on the block at Sotheby’s on 16 May (estimate $7m-$10m) while Christie’s is offering El Gran Espectaculo (The Nile) (1983) from the collection of Italian fashion designer Valentino Garavani on 15 May with an estimate in the region of $45m.

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