Elton John Puts Giant Painting by Warhol and Basquiat Up for Auction

It has a $1.1 million estimate.

Elton John performs at the Breast Cancer Research Foundation's Hot Pink Party at the Waldorf Astoria Hotel on April 12, 2016 in New York. Photo Theo Wargo/Getty Images for BCRF.
Elton John performs at the Breast Cancer Research Foundation's Hot Pink Party at the Waldorf Astoria Hotel on April 12, 2016 in New York. Photo Theo Wargo/Getty Images for BCRF.
Jean-Michel Basquiat and Andy Warhol, <i>Untitled</i>, 1984-85. Photo courtesy Sotheby's France.

Jean-Michel Basquiat and Andy Warhol, Untitled, 1984-85. Photo courtesy Sotheby’s France.

A painting that Andy Warhol and Jean-Michel Basquiat collaborated on will come to auction June 7 at Sotheby’s Paris, offered by none other than Sir Elton John.

Estimated at up to about $1.1 million, the untitled, nearly nine-foot-wide painting (1984-85) has never come to auction; Sir Elton bought it from dealer Larry Gagosian. It shows a skull and crossbones symbol, emblazoned on what appears to be a paper bag, recalling heroin baggies and the stamps used to identify different varieties. Next to the skull is a red icon with the word “stomach” and a copyright symbol, in Basquiat’s trademark capital letters.

The two artists collaborated on a number of paintings in the early 1980s, and in fact Basquiat is said to have inspired Warhol to take up painting on canvas, which he hadn’t done since the 1960s.

“Warhol’s collaborations with Basquiat can seem like a conservative move–a return to expressive hand-painting after decades spent fleeing just that,” Warhol scholar Blake Gopnik said in an email. “But these works don’t matter for what they look like. It’s the collaboration itself that matters, as part of the ‘social sculpture’ of Warhol’s life. They also show Warhol taking yet another step to undermine standard notions of unique authorship, which he’d done since his first Pop experiments. (That’s something the market has a very hard time understanding.)”

Gopnik, an artnet News contributor, is at work on a Warhol biography.

“That detached stomach in the painting strikes an autobiographical note,” he added. “In talking to the surgeon who saved Warhol’s life after he was shot in 1968, I discovered that the almost-fatal bullet tore his esophagus from his stomach. The reattachment was never quite perfect, and he had trouble eating for the rest of his life. That’s one reason he was so partial to milk shakes and other high-calorie, easy-to-swallow foods.”

Jean-Michel Basquiat and Andy Warhol, <i>Zenith</i>, 1985. Photo courtesy Phillips New York.

Jean-Michel Basquiat and Andy Warhol, Zenith, 1985. Photo courtesy Phillips New York.

The highest price paid at auction for a collaborative work by the two artists, according to the artnet Auction Price Database, is $11.4 million, for the 1985 painting Zenith at Phillips New York in 2014.

Ronny Cutrone, an assistant to Warhol, likened the pairing of the two artists to a “crazy art-world marriage,” in Warhol: The Biography, saying that “Jean-Michel thought he needed Andy’s fame, and Andy thought he needed Jean-Michel’s new blood. Jean-Michel gave Andy a rebellious image again.”

Elton John performs at the Breast Cancer Research Foundation's Hot Pink Party at the Waldorf Astoria Hotel on April 12, 2016 in New York. Photo Theo Wargo/Getty Images for BCRF.

Elton John performs at the Breast Cancer Research Foundation’s Hot Pink Party at the Waldorf Astoria Hotel on April 12, 2016 in New York. Photo Theo Wargo/Getty Images for BCRF.

Sir John, along with his husband, David Furnish, is a longtime collector of contemporary art. His holdings include works by Louise Bourgeois, Willem de Kooning, Damien Hirst, and Keith Haring.

The pop star is also an avid photography collector. London’s Tate Modern will mount an exhibition of his collection of modernist photography, including giants like André Kertész, Berenice Abbot, Aleksandr Rodchenko, and Edward Steichen.


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