Created in 1981-82, Cabra by Jean-Michel Basquiat was acquired by Guggenheim Abu Dhabi in 2017.
Inspired by Muhammad Ali’s 1970 knockout of Argentine heavyweight Oscar Bonavena, who was known as “The Bull”, this bold red canvas is on its way to Abu Dhabi for long-time fans of Basquiat, as well as newcomers, to admire.
Jean-Michel Basquiat star might have shone briefly, and fiercely, but he still emerged as one of the most influential artists in the history of the New York avant-garde scene.
Coming of age during a period of social and political upheaval in America, and fresh calls for Black justice, Basquiat broke through barriers in the art establishment to become a young celebrity in the rising East Village art scene of the 1980s.
Born in Brooklyn, New York in 1960 to a Haitian father and Puerto Rican mother, he showed an early affinity for drawing. His mother further instilled his interest by enrolling him as a junior member of the Brooklyn Museum at the age of six and taking him to museums around the city.
Basquiat childhood was marred by family problems, including his parents’ separation and his mother’s mental illness. By 17, he was living on the streets and exploring graffiti art with friends Al Diaz and Shannon Dawson.
Together they created SAMO, a tag they used for their works – painted messages on the walls of the New York City subway system or in neighbourhoods like the East Village and SoHo. It was the late 1970s, and street art was beginning to catch the attention of the art world.
At the age of 20, the Basquiat had his first formal exhibition, The Times Square Show (1980), kick-starting a spectacular rise in the art world. Soon he began to exhibit internationally, and was the youngest artist to be shown at documenta 7 in Kassel, Germany.
His work was closely associated with Neo-Expressionism, which marked a return to the depiction of the human figure. He developed his own painting technique – raw, gestural strokes that seemed to express the subject’s inner feelings, possessing elements of graffiti and collage.
The crown became a motif in his work; he used it as a way to elevate and exalt his subjects, especially historical Black figures.
Firmly in the spotlight, Basquiat began collaborating with Andy Warhol.
Despite his success, he struggled with personal issues which led to his untimely death at 27 in 1988.
Yet his powerful legacy continues to inspire contemporary culture and artistic activism to this day. He is one of the most recognised artists of the late 20th Century and also one of the most valued in the market. His infusion of painting and his graffiti-based practices continue to inspire artists today.
Part of the Guggenheim Abu Dhabi’s permanent collection, Cabra was previously displayed at the Louvre Abu Dhabi in 2018, and will be on display again in April 2019.