NEW YORK, NY.- Phillips
announced the sale of two works from the collection of former Minnesota State Supreme Court Justice and Legendary NFL Hall of Famer Alan Page. Held in the acclaimed collection of Justice Alan and Diane Page for over 35 years, Untitled (Starvation) and Untitled (The Athlete) are milestones of the revolutionary approach that launched Jean-Michel Basquiat to international acclaim in 1981. Their inclusion in Phillips 20th Century & Contemporary Art Day Sale on 24 June marks the first time that they have ever been offered publicly.
Of the works, which were authenticated by the artists father Gerard Basquiat, Justice Page said, Initially, when Diane and I started collecting art in the 1970s it was about collecting beautiful objects, but over time, our focus shifted to objects that talk about who we are as a people; where we have been, where we are now, and where we should be going. Todays collection shines a light on the beauty of African American art and culture, while also shining a light on the horrors of slavery and the Jim Crow era. While it has been our good fortune to be the caretakers of Starvation and The Athlete for so many years - and they will be missed - weve had almost thirty years of enjoyment from them and its time for someone else to have that opportunity.
John McCord, Phillips Co-Head of Day Sale, said, In their forty-five years together, Diane and Alan Page formed one of the most remarkable collections of contemporary art and African Americana in private hands, all while continuing to serve their community in Minneapolis in countless and unprecedented ways. Given their keen eye for artists who helped to define 20th century culture and bring discussions of racial equity to the fore, it comes as no surprise that Starvation and The Athlete were such treasured pieces in their collection for over three decades.
Four years after executing Starvation and The Athlete, Basquiat emerged from New Yorks underground art scene and exploded onto the cover of The New York Times Magazine. As the first artist of color to be compared to the likes of Picasso and Francis Bacon, the Times feature marked a seismic shift in a culture rife with racism. Basquiats impact reverberated beyond the confines of the New York art scene, reaching people across the country and around the world including Alan Pages daughter Georgi, 1,000 miles away in Minneapolis. The artists work made such a deep impression on the 15-year-old that her father and stepmother who already owned works by contemporary artists like Andy Warhol, Jim Dine and Helen Frankenthaler were convinced to seek out Basquiats work on their next trip to New York.
Untitled (Starvation) and Untitled (The Athlete) are two exemplary works depicting subjects that would become central to the vernacular of Basquiats brief output: an anthropomorphic god figure with the artists famous crown-of-thorns motif, and a monumentalyet fallibleathlete. Basquiats unbridled genius shines in these pieces, executed when he was on the cusp of unprecedented critical and commercial success.
The formidable figure in Starvation shows his strength as he raises his arms in victory, warning, or supplication. The crossed-out text Samale possibly an invocation of the fierce monkey-man god of African mythologyis juxtaposed here with a crown of thorns, a frequent element in Basquiats iconography. Just as Basquiat eventually took his own place in the pantheon of cultural icons, the gladiator in The Athlete shows a deep affinity with athletes that the artist celebrated, including Muhammad Ali, Joe Louis, and Hank Aaron. The work is a vivid example of Basquiats understanding of the athlete as an epic figure fighting for the respect and recognition whose corollary is perpetual vulnerability: to racism, to objectification, and to deeply entrenched stereotypes of masculinity.
While western art history has valorized Judeo-Christian gods and saints, Basquiat sought to exalt idols of Black history and animist religions. In particular, the artist admired how these athletes and gods fearlessly challenged pervasive social and racial boundaries: many had, literally and figuratively, fought their way not just to success but to physical and spiritual freedom.