Oliver Stone’s Jean-Michel Basquiat and Andy Warhol Painting Sells For £1.5 Million

Take two of the most celebrated names in post-war art, add to them the provenance of a Hollywood film director, and you have a prized auction lot.

November 7, 2013
by Gowri Balasegaram
Basquiat and Warhol, Cops, 1984

Basquiat and Warhol, Cops, 1984

Last month, Jean-Michel Basquiat and Andy Warhol’s painting Cops (1984), formerly owned by Oliver Stone, sold for over £1.5million at the Christie’s London Contemporary art auction. The painting was underestimated at £1.3m, but realised a total price of £1,538,500. Stone acquired the painting from legendary dealer Bruno Bischofberger in 1991, the year he directed the double academy award–winning film JFK. His other directorial credits include Platoon, Wall Street, Born on the Fourth of July, Nixon and Any Given Sunday.

What makes Cops so alluring is the blend of imagery, characterising each artist’s style; the Arm and Hammer logo is redolent of Warhol’s cool graphic commercialism, whilst the crowned head and serpent are recurring motifs in Basquiat’s expressive vernacular – derived from his days as a graffiti artist. The text in the painting was based on the headline “Cops Fight Gay Hiring”, appropriated from a New York newspaper, which documented the story of a local police group that prohibited a homosexual unit in June 1984. The collaboration saw Warhol return to painting from screen-printing, with the artist hand-painting both the text and logo. Basquiat conversely has painted over both the logo and text, obscuring the meaning of the words. Basquiat’s practice of over-painting was symptomatic of his artists’ working process, and endemic in his art, where he frequently layered text to render the meaning ambiguous.

It was the Swiss Bischofberger who originally initiated the collaboration between the two artists, along with Francesco Clemente, in 1983. The relationship between Warhol and Basquiat flourished, Warhol assuming the role of mentor to the younger Basquiat, and further collaboration between the artists ensued during 1984-1985. In total they produced over 50 large-scale collaborations. Despite negative criticism when the works were first exhibited, Warhol called some of them his “masterpieces”, and his later works owe an influence to Basquiat’s wild, gestural style.

The record auction price for a Basquiat-Warhol painting is £6m for Olympics 1984 sold at Philips de Pury in London, months before the 2012 olympic games. Sale prices for the artists individually have naturally fared better: this year, Basquiat’s Dustheads 1982 achieved an artist auction record of $48.8m at Christie’s New York in 2013, whilst Warhol’s Green Car Crash 1963 sold for $71.7 at Christie’s New York in 2007.