No matter how much one can learn about the artist Jean-Michel Basquiat, there always seems to be more to be discovered. In the decades since his death, Basquiat’s estate has authorized the use of the artist’s most iconic designs on everything from Barbies to Coach bags, but his output while he was alive far outstrips any uncanniness that late capitalism can conjure. On November 7, Art Legacy Auctions in Chicago is offering an item in a live auction that adds a whole new dimension to Basquiat’s art: a 1985 mannequin head wearing large stereo headphones that the artist painted and gave as a gift to Jimmy Hart (a.k.a the Mouth of the South), a WWF wresting manager. Basquiat, as it turns out, was a huge wrestling fan.
Estimated to sell for between $350,000 and $380,000, the mannequin head has been given Basquiat’s characteristic design. The head’s visage is coated with multicolored lines and a smaller drawing of a skull, and the artist has also given it metallic teeth in a dark red mouth. According to Art Legacy, the headphones that the mannequin is wearing belonged to Basquiat: he placed them on the sculpture as a representation of how he felt like covering his ears every time Jimmy Hart yelled into his megaphone at wrestling events. Basquiat presented Hart with this work ahead of attending the March 31, 1985 Wrestlemania 1 event at Madison Square Garden alongside Andy Warhol and Andy Kaufman.
Given that Basquiat’s work regularly sells at auctions for multiple millions of dollars, it’s a safe bet that this slightly creepy mannequin head will fetch a large sum as well. In any case, it’s fascinating to learn that Basquiat was virtuosic enough to draw inspiration from anywhere; even and especially from the cavernous din of a wrestling match.
New on the Block is a series that looks at the most notable or unusual items to go up for auction each week.