The Jean-Michel Basquiat Nudes His Estate Doesn’t Want You To See

The photos were taken by the artist's ex-girlfriend Paige Powell.

Tamra Davis, still from A Conversation with Basquiat (2006). Photo: Courtesy of the artist/Estate of Jean-Michel Basquiat.

Artist estates are entrusted with the nebulous concept of managing a late artist’s reputation. Usually, that would mean overseeing loans for shows, licensing images for publications, authenticating works, and other mostly bureaucratic tasks. But sometimes, managing an artist’s estate also means removing their “dick pics” from the internet.

On Monday, Basquiat Estate attorney James P. Cinque sent an email to the online publication Animal New York requesting it to immediately remove photos it published in 2014 of Jean-Michel Basquiat lying naked on a mattress.

Jean-Michel Basquiat. Photo: Courtesy Van de Weghe Fine Art

Jean-Michel Basquiat.
Photo: Courtesy Van de Weghe Fine Art

But rather than remove the images, the website Ratter—Animal New York shut down in July and relaunched as Ratter—published a screenshot of the e-mail instead. In it, Cinque claims that the photos must be taken down because “they disparage Mr. Basquiat and are prurient in nature.”

But if the images are so sensitive, how did the website get its hands on them? The photos actually came from an exhibition called “Jean-Michel Basquiat, Reclining Nude,” which took place at Suzanne Geiss Company in 2014 and featured black and white photos of the artist that Paige Powell, Basquiat’s ex-girlfriend, took in their Upper West Side apartment in the 1980s.

“They are at once vulnerable and trusting images of our love and the daily life of Jean-Michel Basquiat,” Powell was quoted in the show’s announcement. “The photographs provide an intimate look into our private lives while we were together in the early 1980s.”

When the show opened, a slew of other publications ran the candid series, including the Huffington Post. “He would love these photos,” Powell told Paper Mag in an interview.

But, context is everything, and perhaps it was the title that Animal New York gave the item that got the lawyer’s attention.

Bucky Turco, who was the owner of Animal New York, commented to DNAinfo about the request. “There’s a reason why lawyers are lawyers and not art critics,” he said. “The request to remove the photos is absurd. He has no legal standing.”

“Also,” he added, “anyone who uses the word ‘prurient,’ should never be taken seriously.”


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