Basquiat’s Modena Paintings to Be Reunited for the First Time

The neo-expressionist artist’s works for a canceled Galleria d'Arte Emilio Mazzoli exhibition will be shown together in Basel.

A black crudely drawn figure wearing a top hat stands on a blue surface in front of an orange wall covered in graffiti.
Basquiat’s works have set several auction records and continue to rise in value. Estate of Jean-Michel Basquiat/Artestar

In 1982, art dealer Emilio Mazzoli brought Jean-Michel Basquiat to Modena, Italy, where the street-artist-turned-mainstream-success would quickly produce a series of paintings for his second solo exhibition at Galleria d’Arte Emilio Mazzoli. Basquiat, notably prolific, produced, but the show was canceled and the paintings were never shown together.

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Forty years later, the Fondation Beyeler’s Basquiat. the Modena Work (opening June 11) will bring Basquiat’s large-scale Modena works together for the first time. The eight works, held in eight separate private collections in the U.S., Asia and Switzerland, include The Guilt of Gold Teeth, as well as Untitled and Profit, which have both set records at auction.

The paintings are considered by many to represent Basquiat’s rapid transition from graffito to gallery darling. Basquiat caught Mazzoli’s eye after curator Diego Cortez included the artist’s work in a 1981 MoMA P.S.1 group show entitled New York / New Wave. Critical acclaim—and collectors hungry for Basquiat’s visually arresting neo-expressionist paintings—soon followed. Mazzoli purchased ten paintings for what would have been the first of two solo shows in Modena, and art dealer Annina Nosei invited Basquiat to join the Annina Nosei Gallery.

SEE ALSO: Collector Francesco Pellizzi’s Rare Basquiats Head to Auction for the First Time

But as the New York Times reported in 1985, Basquiat was already souring on the speed at which the art world expected him to work. “It was like a factory, a sick factory,” the artist told reporter Cathleen McGuigan, adding that he hated it.

Yet Basquiat must have struggled through those feelings on some level, as he spent his time in Modena rapid fire producing eight large-scale, career-defining works. That career would last another six years before his untimely death in 1988—six years of fame that included participation in the Whitney Biennial, collaborations with Andy Warhol and walking the Comme des Garçons runway, as well as exploitation and addiction.

“When people say Jean-Michel looks like art, the occult significance of the comment is that it looks like our expectation of art,” Rene Ricard wrote in Artforum in 1981. “There is observable history in his work.”

Today, we’re left with nothing but that history, though the hunger for Basquiat’s art hasn’t abated. His 1985 Now’s the Time will be sold by Sotheby’s at an evening sale on May 18 for an estimated $30 million, and Christie’s will sell Basquiat’s 1983 El Gran Espectaculo (The Nile) on May 15 for an estimated $45 million.

Basquiat. the Modena Work will be on view at the Fondation Beyeler through August 27.

Basquiat’s Modena Paintings to Be Reunited for the First Time