A Quick Killing in Art

By Phoebe Hoban

“If you had only twenty-four hours left to live, what would you do?”
“I don’t know. I’d go hang out with my mother and my girlfriend, I guess.”

 
 

 
 

Friday, August 12, 1988. On the sidewalk outside 57 Great Jones Street, the usual sad lineup of crack addicts slept in the burning sun. Inside the two-story brick building, Jean-Michel Basquiat was asleep in his huge bed, bathed in blue television light. The air conditioner was broken and the room felt like a microwave oven. The bathroom door was ajar, revealing a glimpse of a black and tan Jacuzzi tub. On the ledge of the tub was a small pile of bloody syringes. There was a jagged hole punched in the bathroom window. Beneath it was scrawled the legend “Broken Heart,” with Basquiat’s favorite punctuation, a copyright sign.

Kelle Inman, Basquiat’s twenty-two-year-old girlfriend, was downstairs writing in the journal that Basquiat had given her. He usually slept all day, but when he still hadn’t come down for breakfast by midafternoon, Inman got worried. When she looked into the bedroom to check up on him, the heat hit her full in the face, like a wave. But Basquiat seemed to be sleeping peacefully, so she went back downstairs. She and the housekeeper heard what sounded like loud snores, but thought nothing of it.

A few hours later, Basquiat’s friend Kevin Bray called. He and Basquiat and another friend, Victor Littlejohn, were supposed to go to a Run-D.M.C. concert that evening, and he wanted to make plans with Jean-Michel. Kelle climbed back up the stair’s to give Basquiat the message. This time, she found him stretched on the floor, his head Jean-Michael on his arm like a child’s, a small pool of vomit forming near his chin.

Inman panicked. She had never seen anyone die, although Basquiat’s drug binges had made the scenario a constant fear. Now it seemed like the worst had happened. She ran to the phone and called Bray, Littlejohn, and Vrej Baghoomian, Basquiat’s last art dealer.

“When I got there,” recalls Bray, “Kelle said she had called an ambulance. She took me upstairs. Jean-Michel looked like he was comfortably out cold. He was on the floor, lying against the wall, as if he had fallen down and didn’t have the strength to get up, and was just taking a nap. There was a lot of clear liquid coming out of his mouth. We picked him up and turned him over. We shook him, and we just kept trying to revive him. It took a long time for the ambulance to arrive. But for a while, after the guys from the Emergency Medical Service came, we thought he was going to be okay. They were giving him shocks and IV treatment. Victor had to hold Jean-Michel up like this so the IV’s would drain,” says Bray, stretching his arms out in a cruciform.

Bray couldn’t take it anymore. He went downstairs, where Inman, and two assistants from the Baghoomian gallery, Vera Calloway and Helen Traversi, were trying to stay calm. “We tried to take his pulse. His skin was so hot,” says Calloway. Baghoomian called the studio just as the paramedics arrived. He was in San Francisco and Helen was forced to act in his stead.

“It was almost like it was some sort of business transaction,” says Bray. “They put a tube in his throat and they brought him downstairs. They wouldn’t tell us whether he was dead or alive and they took him outside. He had this beautiful bubbling red-white foam coming out of his mouth.”

“We all hoped some miracle would happen,” recalls Helen, who begins to cry at the memory. Outside on the pavement, a small crowd had gathered in horror and fascination. “I was about to leave on vacation with my wife,” says filmmaker Amos Poe, who was a friend of the artist. “We watched as they loaded his body into the ambulance. I saw his father pull up in a Saab. I kept saying to my wife. `Jean-Michel is dead.’ He really lived out that whole destructo legend: Die young, leave a beautiful corpse.”

Basquiat was buried at Green-Wood Cemetery in Brooklyn five days later. His father invited only a few of the artist’s friends to the closed-casket funeral at Frank Campbell’s; they were outnumbered by the phalanx of art dealers. The heat wave had broken, and it rained on the group gathered at the cemetery to bid Jean-Michel goodbye. The eulogy was delivered by Citibank art consultant Jeffrey Deitch, lending the moment an unintentionally ironic tone.

Blanca Martínez, Basquiat’s housekeeper, was struck by the alienated attitude of the mourners. “They were all standing separately, as if it were an obligation,” she says. “They didn’t seem to care. Some looked ashamed.” People began to leave the cemetery before the body was buried. Ignoring the objections of the gravediggers, Martinez tearfully threw a handful of dirt onto the coffin as they lowered it into the grave.

Basquiat’s mother, Matilde, looking dazed, approached Baghoomian to thank him for his help to her son during his last days. Gerard Basquiat later admonished his former wife not to talk to the art dealer. The scene was already being set for a bitter battle over the estate of the artist.

The following week, appraisers from Christie’s set to work taking inventory of the contents of the Great Jones Street loft: finished and unfinished paintings, other artists’ works (including several dozen Warhols and a piece by William Burroughs), a vintage collection of Mission furniture, a closet full of Armani and Comme des Garcons suits, a library of over a thousand videotapes, hundreds of audiocassettes, art books, a carton of the Charlie Parker biography Bird Lives!, several bicycles, a number of antique toys, an Everlast punching bag, six music synthesizers, some African instruments, an Erector set, and a pair of handcuffs.

There were also a number of paintings in warehouses: following Andy Warhol‘s advice, Basquiat had tried to squirrel some of his work away from his ever-eager art dealers. According to Christie’s, Basquiat had left 917 drawings, 25 sketchbooks, 85 prints, and 171 paintings.

Artist Dan Asher walked by his old friend’s loft and was astonished to see a number of Basquiat’s favorite things in a Dumpster: his shoes, his jazz collection, a peculiar lamp made out of driftwood, Sam Peckinpah‘s director’s chair. Asher salvaged a few items; he sold the chair to a collector.

It would be another year before Gerard Basquiat ordered a tombstone for his son. But for several weeks after the artist’s death, he was commemorated by a small shrine some anonymous fan had placed by his door. Shrouded in lace, it held flowers, votive candles, a picture of Basquiat, some carefully copied prayers, and a Xerox of a David Levine caricature of the artist, complete with a caption: “In an age of limitless options and limiting fears, he still makes poems and paintings to evoke his world.”

A formal memorial service was finally held at Saint Peter’s Church in Citicorp Center, on a stormy Saturday in November. Despite the rain, wind, and bleak gray sky, several hundred people crowded into the church. Behind the pulpit hung a portrait of the artist as a young man, superimposed on one of his faux-primitive paintings. One by one, his former friends and lovers remembered Basquiat.

Gray, the band with which Jean-Michel had played at the Mudd Club, performed several songs. John Lurie played a saxophone solo. Ingrid Sischy, editor of Interview magazine, read a eulogy. Ex-girlfriends Jennifer Goode and Suzanne Mallouk tearfully read poems. And Keith Haring, AIDS-thin, reminisced about his friend. “He disrupted the politics of the art world and insisted that if he had to play their games, he would make the rules. His images entered the dreams and museums of the exploiters, and the world can never be the same.”

Fab 5 Freddy, who knew Basquiat from his old graffiti days, “interpolated” a poem by Langston Hughes. “This is a song for the genius child. Sing it softly, for the song is wild. Sing it softly as ever you can–lest the song get out of hand. Nobody loves a genius child. Can you love an eagle, tame or wild? Wild or tame, can you love a monster, of frightening name? Nobody loves a genius child. Free [sic] him and let his soul run wild.”

After the service, everyone went to M.K., the bank-turned-nightclub on lower Fifth Avenue. Owned by Jennifer Goode’s brother, it was one of Jean-Michel’s favorite places. In fact, it was his last destination the night before he died. He had come to the club looking for Jennifer. Now people stood around the big television set, sipping champagne and watching a flickering black-and-white video of Basquiat. A photographer from Fame magazine snapped pictures of the known and not-so-known: the jewelry designer Tina Chow, and her sister, Adele Lutz, David Byrne‘s wife. Filmmaker Jim Jarmusch. It was the perfect send-off for the eighties art star; part opening, part wake.

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A Statement About the Transience of Life and Fashion

“Visionaire first featured the designs of Lee Alexander McQueen in 1996 and since that time, he has been a continuous inspiration and a presence in Visionaire. McQueen’s special commissions are among our most treasured contributions. His daring designs and challenging ideas of fashion have consistently excited and provoked us.”

Stephen Gan, Cecilia Dean and James Kaliardos

Magazine’s founders

 
 

Visionaire 58 SPIRIT, a limited-edition of 1500 numbered copies

 
 

Protected in a modernly-chic white box, the tri-annual fashion and art publication Visionaire has released its tribute to the life and work of late fashion designer and icon Lee Alexander McQueen. The issue includes a collection of photographs by Nick Knight, Lady Gaga, Steven Klein, Steven Meisel, Inez van Lamsweerde & Vinoodh Matadin, Mario Testino, Mario Sorrenti and more, each printed on a piece of pulp paper embedded with wildflower seeds that will actually blossom if you plant them, water them and give them enough sun. However, with its striking images and homage to a true fashion legacy, we don’t intend to plant the pages anytime soon. Plus, the case features a metalized brocade detail from the designer’s final collection. All in all, a very romantic collector’s piece.

Several years before issue 58 came to be (2003), Alexander “Lee” McQueen came to the Visionaire office to discuss collaborating on an issue that ultimately never happened. One day, the staff was discussing a potential issue printed on seeded paper, and the next day, news came that McQueen, one of the most brilliant creative minds of our time, had passed away. The team took this as a sign and dedicated SPIRIT to him. The issue set out to commemorate McQueen’s life and career by publishing the imagery that had defined it.

 
 

Alexander McQueen by Steven Klein

 
 

Illustration by François Berthoud

 
 

Mert Alas and Marcus Piggott for Visionaire 29 WOMAN

 
 

Mert Alas and Marcus Piggott for Visionaire 26 FANTASY

 
 

Horst Diekgerdes and Camille Bidault Waddington for Visionaire 25 VISIONARY

 
 

Alexander McQueen and Phil Pointer for Visionaire 24 LIGHT

 
 

Nick Knight for Visionaire 20 COMME DES GARÇONS

 
 

Steven Klein for Visionaire 18 FASHION SPECIAL

The Elegant Portraiture of Timothy Greenfield Sanders

“For many photographers, fashion is the ultimate. But I’m not a fashion photographer. I’m a portrait artist who shoots fashion”

Timothy Greenfield Sanders

 
 

Yves Saint Laurent

 
 

Pauline Trigère

 
 

Sonia Rykiel

 
 

Rei Kawakubo

 
 

Todd Oldham

 
 

Jean Muir

 
 

Elsa Peretti

 
 

Paloma Picasso

 
 

Carolina Herrera

 
 

Carmen Dell’Orefice

 
 

Oscar De la Renta

 
 

Jil Sander

 
 

Vera Wang

 
 

Donna Karan

 
 

Naomi Campbell

 
 

Christy Turlington

 
 

Andre Leon Talley

 
 

Liz Tilberis

 
 

Anna Wintour

 
 

Simon Doonan

 
 

Iké Udé

 
 

Hamish Bowles

 
 

Betsey Johnson

 
 

Miguel Adrover

 
 

Patrick Robinson

 
 

Zac Posen

 
 

Michael Kors

 
 

Narciso Rodríguez

 
 

Calvin Klein

 
 

Tommy Hilfiger

 
 

Isaac Mizrahi

Tales of Unexpected

Photos by Tim Walker for Vogue UK, December 2008

 
 

Tim Walker creates this candy coated acid trip of a universe featuring models Karen Elson, Georgia May Jagger, and Sophie Drake, as well as various actors, designers, and British eccentrics, including Tim Burton and Helena Bonham Carter. The story uses quotes from Roald Dahl stories and the editorial includes an article by Dahl’s granddaughter, model Sophie Dahl.

Dialogue Between Fashion and Death

Yves Saint Laurent

 
 

YSL Rive Gauche nappa leather platform pump, 2010

 
 

Saint Laurent by Hedi Slimane silver skull and leather necklace

 
 

Yohji Yamamoto 1995-1996 Ad campaign photographed by David Sims

 
 

Alexander McQueen Spring Summer 2010 eyewear advertising

 
 

Christian Dior Haute Couture by John Galliano. Autumn-Winter 2000

 
 

Iris van Herpen Capriole Haute Couture AW11

 
 

Dsquared2 Fall 2010

 
 


Reveal The Inner Self, collection of Taiwanese designer Wei Ting Liang for her 3rd year final project, at the Ecole de la Chambre Synidcale de la Couture Parisenne

 
 

Jean Paul Gaultier, Fall Winter Couture collection 2006-2007

 
 

gaultier skeleton 2011Jean Paul Gaultier fashion show, 2011

 
 

Jean-Charles de Castelbajac, Fall/Winter 20011-2012

 
 

White cotton jacket printed all over with dotted grey skulls wearing light blue sunglasses by Comme Des Garcons Homme Plus, Spring-Summer 2011

 
 

Narciso Rodriguez’s sketch-books

 
 

Vans skulls slip-on shoes

 
 

Christian Audigier, French fashion designer and entrepreneur

 
 

Vivienne Westwood

 
 

GIACOMO LEOPARDI
DIALOGUE BETWEEN FASHION AND DEATH
A CHAPTER FROM OPERA OMNIA (1824)

Translated by Charles Edwardes

FASHION — Madam Death, Madam Death!

DEATH — Wait until your time comes, and then I will appear without being called by you.

FASHION — Madam Death!

DEATH — Go to the devil. I will come when you least expect me.

FASHION — As if I were not immortal!

DEATH — Immortal?

“Already has passed the thousandth year,”

since the age of immortals ended.

FASHION — Madam is as much a Petrarchist as if she were an Italian poet of the fifteenth or eighteenth century.

DEATH — I like Petrarch because he composed my triumph, and because he refers so often to me. But I must be moving.

FASHION — Stay! For the love you bear to the seven cardinal sins, stop a moment and look at me.

DEATH — Well. I am looking.

FASHION — Do you not recognise me?

DEATH — You must know that I have bad sight, and am without spectacles. The English make none to suit me; and if they did, I should not know where to put them.

FASHION — I am Fashion, your sister.

DEATH — My sister?

FASHION — Yes. Do you not remember we are both born of Decay?

DEATH — As if I, who am the chief enemy of Memory, should recollect it!

FASHION — But I do. I know also that we both equally profit by the incessant change and destruction of things here below, although you do so in one way, and I in another.

DEATH — Unless you are speaking to yourself, or to some one inside your throat, raise your voice, and pronounce your words more distinctly. If you go mumbling between your teeth with that thin spider-voice of yours, I shall never understand you; because you ought to know that my hearing serves me no better than my sight.

FASHION — Although it be contrary to custom, for in France they do not speak to be heard, yet, since we are sisters, I will speak as you wish, for we can dispense with ceremony between ourselves. I say then that our common nature and custom is to incessantly renew the world. You attack the life of man, and overthrow all people and nations from beginning to end; whereas I content myself for the most part with influencing beards, head-dresses, costumes, furniture, houses, and the like. It is true, I do some things comparable to your supreme action. I pierce ears, lips, and noses, and cause them to be torn by the ornaments I suspend from them. I impress men’s skin with hot iron stamps, under the pretence of adornment. I compress the heads of children with tight bandages and other contrivances; and make it customary for all men of a country to have heads of the same shape, as in parts of America and Asia. I torture and cripple people with small shoes. I stifle women with stays so tight, that their eyes start from their heads; and I play a thousand similar pranks. I also frequently persuade and force men of refinement to bear daily numberless fatigues and discomforts, and often real sufferings; and some even die gloriously for love of me. I will say nothing of the headaches, colds, inflammations of all kinds, fevers — daily, tertian, and quartan — which men gain by their obedience to me. They are content to shiver with cold, or melt with heat, simply because it is my will that they cover their shoulders with wool, and their breasts with cotton. In fact, they do everything in my way, regardless of their own injury.

DEATH — In truth, I believe you are my sister; the testimony of a birth certificate could scarcely make me surer of it. But standing still paralyses me, so if you can, let us run; only you must not creep, because I go at a great pace. As we proceed you can tell me what you want. If you cannot keep up with me, on account of our relationship I promise when I die to bequeath you all my clothes and effects as a New Year’s gift.

FASHION — If we ran a race together, I hardly know which of us would win. For if you run, I gallop, and standing still, which paralyses you, is death to me. So let us run, and we will chat as we go along.

DEATH — So be it then. Since your mother was mine, you ought to serve me in some way, and assist me in my business.

FASHION — I have already done so — more than you imagine. Above all, I, who annul and transform other customs unceasingly, have nowhere changed the custom of death; for this reason it has prevailed from the beginning of the world until now.

DEATH — A great miracle forsooth, that you have never done what you could not do!

FASHION — Why cannot I do it? You show how ignorant you are of the power of Fashion.

DEATH — Well, well: time enough to talk of this when you introduce the custom of not dying. But at present, I want you, like a good sister, to aid me in rendering my task more easy and expeditious than it has hitherto been.

FASHION — I have already mentioned some of my labours which are a source of profit to you. But they are trifling in comparison with those of which I will now tell you. Little by little, and especially in modern times, I have brought into disuse and discredit those exertions and exercises which promote bodily health; and have substituted numberless others which enfeeble the body in a thousand ways, and shorten life. Besides, I have introduced customs and manners, which render existence a thing more dead than alive, whether regarded from a physical or mental point of view; so that this century may be aptly termed the century of death. And whereas formerly you had no other possessions except graves and vaults, where you sowed bones and dust, which are but a barren seed, now you have fine landed properties, and people who are a sort of freehold possession of yours as soon as they are born, though not then claimed by you. And more, you, who used formerly to be hated and vituperated, are in the present day, thanks to me, valued and lauded by all men of genius. Such an one prefers you to life itself, and holds you in such high esteem that he invokes you, and looks to you as his greatest hope. But this is not all. I perceived that men had some vague idea of an after-life, which they called immortality. They imagined they lived in the memory of their fellows, and this remembrance they sought after eagerly. Of course this was in reality mere fancy, since what could it matter to them when dead, that they lived in the minds of men? As well might they dread contamination in the grave! Yet, fearing lest this chimera might be prejudicial to you, in seeming to diminish your honour and reputation, I have abolished the fashion of seeking immortality, and its concession, even when merited. So that now, whoever dies may assure himself that he is dead altogether, and that every bit of him goes into the ground, just as a little fish is swallowed, bones and all. These important things my love for you has prompted me to effect. I have also succeeded in my endeavour to increase your power on earth. I am more than ever desirous of continuing this work. Indeed, my object in seeking you to-day was to make a proposal that for the future we should not separate, but jointly might scheme and execute for the furtherance of our respective designs.

DEATH — You speak reasonably, and I am willing to do as you propose