New York magazine is out today with a story about a man who claims that he was Jean-Michel Basquiat’s drug dealer, and that the artist decorated the door of the Williamsburg bodega where the dealer ran drugs shortly before Basquiat died in 1988.
Halfway through the story you learn that the artist’s estate has ruled that, as far as it’s concerned, the work is not a Basquiat. That doesn’t mean there aren’t some interesting thought experiments to probe from associates who think it might be, though.
If it’s a genuine Basquiat, it’s part of his art and life, however diminished both were. “It’s not a happy thought, of someone in despair and drugs at the end of their life, but that doesn’t devalue the art,” says [street artist Kenny] Scharf. “In fact, maybe it increases it.”
It’s an argument similar to the one recently made by John Elderfield, who curated the de Kooning retrospective at MoMA and included that artist’s controversial later works because, “I think there’s something poignant about an artist painting his own disappearance.” Because de Kooning was in the early stages of dementia, those last paintings aren’t considered to be completely his, but ultimately they were some of the best in the new show (“I love these last pictures,” Holland Cotter wrote. “If Mr. Elderfield’s exhibition had done nothing more than provide a context for them, it would have done a lot.”)
So this is in that vein, though there are admittedly more drug dealers in this story.