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Overlooked By Museums While Alive, His Paintings Are Now Auctioning For More than $100 Million

Artist Jean-Michel Basquiat’s rise to fame in the art scene of 1980s New York was nearly as fast as its decline. Born to Haitian and Puerto Rican parents in Brooklyn, New York, Basquiat’s late teens and early 20s were spent living on couches or the streets, all while he developed his voice as an artist. Despite this period of financial struggle, Basquiat’s undeniable talent was earning him a reputation as both an impish street-artist and an up-and-coming voice in NYC’s art community. Within a few years, Basquiat’s pieces were selling for tens of thousands of dollars, attracting collectors from all walks of life. But by the age of 27, Basquiat was dead from a cocaine and opiate overdose.

Demand for Basquiat’s work has risen since his death, as his legacy continues to endure among new generation of art collectors. Here’s a few reasons why Basquiat’s legend continues to grow.

Basquiat’s “Untitled” painting was just auctioned off for a record-breaking $110.5 million.

YUSAKU 2020 / INSTAGRAM

Basquiat’s talents escaped the radar of many major museums during the 1980s, leaving many of his works in the hands of private collectors. Basquiat’s short career means there is a limited supply of his works available, many of which are unknown, even among avid collectors and those closest to him.

The record-breaking “Untitled” painting was so underground that even his sisters had no idea it existed until this year’s auction. The New York Times reported the painting was originally purchased for $19,000 in 1984.

Basquiat’s Puerto Rican mother helped influence Basquiat’s love of the arts.


At a young age, Basquiat’s mother, Matilde, took him to museums and the theater. By the age of four, his desire to create art was completely on display. A freak car accident sent Basquiat to the hospital. To keep him occupied, his mother gave young Basquiat a copy of the medical diagram book “Grey’s Anatomy.” Later in life, these drawings would play an important role in Basquiat’s paintings.

Basquiat gained a reputation during his homeless period in Washington Square Park.

GIGIMASRIA /  BASQUIATART / INSTAGRAM

When he was 17 years old, Basquiat ran away from his home in Brooklyn, ending up in Manhattan’s Washington Square Park, where he slept and worked, New York magazine reported. Basquiat became well-acquainted with LSD, and other drugs, while making ends meet by selling postcards, sweatshirts, and jewelry to passersby. In Washington Square Park, Basquiat cut an imposing figure, sporting a bleached blond mohawk, no shoes, and a trenchcoat. “His eyes could eat your face,” Phoebe Hoban wrote in her book, “Basquiat.

Around this same time, Basquiat was also developing his skills as a street artist.

OUTSIDER ART FAIR / YOUTUBE

Basquiat and a few friends would scrawl poetic messages (like the one above) on the Brooklyn Bridge and the Manhattan Bridge under the name SAMO©. SAMO stood for “Same Old Shit” and was meant to call out bogus aspects of society. His street artistry earned him a reputation among the underground art scene.

Though he was initially known for his street art aesthetic, Basquiat’s paintings were recognized for their neo-expressionist qualities.

#jeanmichelbasquiat Curated by @mrcurator

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Neo-expressionism, which caught on in the 1970s, combined recognizable images, like bodies and faces, with extremes in emotions. Critics of neo-expressionism said the movement was fueled by “angst.” Thomas Lawson, the editor of Real Life Magazine, told the New York Times, ”You can’t tell what the artist is reacting to. It’s not very reflective.” Whether or not neo-expressionism was a fad, the reality is that museums slept on Basquiat during his life, leaving them with few of his works in their collection.

Ann Temkin, curator at the Museum of Modern Art, which does not have a Basquiat work in their collection, told the New York Times, “It’s an artist who we missed. We didn’t bring his paintings into the collection during his life or thereafter.”

Basquiat quickly became one of the hottest stars of New York’s — if not the world’s — art scene.


By 1980, art curator Diego Cortez, a fan of Basquiat’s work, began turning other art collectors on to the young artist. In just a short period of time, Basquiat went from making a few hundred dollars for his work to pulling in upwards of $10,000 for a single piece. Many collectors, who could not afford the extremely expensive artists of the day, were likely to shell out the smaller prices for Basquiat’s work.

Basquiat’s art was displayed in shows around the world — London, Zurich, Paris — earning him more fans, more money, and access to more drugs.

Crew… #basquiat @warholpopart

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As his reputation grew, Basquiat’s personal life became increasingly turbulent. Though he was extremely productive during this time, tales of excessive drug use were extremely common. It was said that Basquiat would work with piles of cocaine next to his latest works. Many of Basquiat’s acquaintances chalked up his drug addictions to his artistry. Andy Warhol, himself sober, who had become friends with Basquiat, tried to discourage the young artist’s excessive drug use. Though Basquiat idolized Warhol, he would often go on destructive binges. These episodes only added to Basquiat’s reputation, which often drove the price of his works among collectors.

Basquiat’s drug overdose at 27 meant that he left behind a limited selection of works for collectors to fight over. And if the most recent, record-breaking auction is any indication, Basquiat’s legend will likely grow among collectors for generations to come.

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Queer Latina Tiffany Cabán Makes History In Queens With New York District Attorney Primary Win

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Queer Latina Tiffany Cabán Makes History In Queens With New York District Attorney Primary Win

Instagram / @cabanforqueens

Tiffany Cabán, a queer Latina public defender, declared victory Tuesday night in a tight Democratic primary race for Queens district attorney.

“When we started this thing they said I was too young. They said I didn’t look like a district attorney,” Cabán, 31, said at her election-night party at a nightclub in Woodside, Queens. “They said we could not win, but we did, it y’all.”

With 99 percent of precincts reporting, Cabán has currently received 39.6 percent of the vote, while the establishment’s favorite Melinda Katz garnered 38.3 percent. There are still 3,400 absentee ballots that need to be counted, which the Board of Elections said won’t be completed until next Wednesday.

Katz, who was endorsed by New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo and former Queens Democratic Party chief Joe Crowley, who was ousted by Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) around this time last year, has refused to concede. She has also already made calls for a recount.

This has not stopped Cabán and her supporters from celebrating a victory.

“We’ve already won without knowing what the final tabulation is,” Maurice Mitchell, the national director of the Working Families Party, which backed Cabán, said. “We’ve already won. We’ve beaten the machine.”

Cabán, a democratic socialist, ran on a platform of “people-powered justice,” which included ending cash bail, not prosecuting subway turnstile jumping, prosecuting the Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency, closing Rikers Island and decriminalizing sex work.

“I am a 31-year-old, queer Latina public defender whose parents grew up in the Woodside Housing projects,” she said during her Tuesday night speech. “And I decided to run. I ran because for too long, too many communities in Queens hadn’t had a fair shot in our criminal-justice system.”

The Puerto Rican public defender received endorsements from progressive leaders like Ocasio-Cortez, Sen. Bernie Sanders (D-VT) and Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA). Most recently, the New York Times also backed the candidate.

“She is of Puerto Rican descent and is the first in her family to graduate from college. She would bring a perspective suited to one of the world’s most diverse communities, one where elected officials have rarely reflected that reality,” the publication said in its endorsement of Cabán.

Cabán’s likely six-person primary win would have her succeed the deceased Queens District Attorney Richard Brown and shift the borough’s, city’s and country’s tough-on-crime, prosecutorial approach in the DAs office.

Read: In New York, Queer Latina Tiffany Cabán Wants To Bring ‘Genuine Justice’ To The Queens District Attorney’s Office

Here’s Why AOC Called Her Address At Bronx’s Pride “The Most BX” Speech She Ever Gave

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Here’s Why AOC Called Her Address At Bronx’s Pride “The Most BX” Speech She Ever Gave

Twitter / @_SanchezSabrina

Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) made an appearance at Bronx Pride 2019 on Sunday, where she gave an air horn-accompanied address that she called “The most BX pride speech I ever gave.”

As the Puerto Rican congressional freshman, who hails from the borough, shouted LGBTQ  policy points she has advocated for in her five months in elected office, spectators blasted “bwa-bwa-bwa-bwaaah” air horns, a familiar sound to the community that birthed hip-hop.

“They really cued up the horns for our policy points. There’s no place like home,” she later tweeted alongside a couple laughing-crying emojis.

During her short talk, AOC touched on what Pride, a time to commeorate the trans women of color-led Stone Wall riots that birthed the gay rights movement and led to the LGBTQ battles and wins of today, means.

“Pride is about honoring the community workers, the people who work in the clinics, the community organizers, the people who work with LGBTQ youth, the people who are fighting to make sure that it’s not just about marriage equality, but quality of life for all people in the community,” she said.

The congresswoman also highlighted some of the biggest issues impacting queer communities at the moment.

“What does the LGBTQ fight mean in a post-marriage-equality world? Here’s what it means: It’s making PrEP free for all people,” she said, as an air horn blasted. 

In Congress, Ocasio-Cortez has led the fight for affordable PrEP (pre-exposure prophylaxis), which could decrease the spreading of HIV during sexual intercourse, criticizing the CEO of Gilead, the pharmaceutical company behind the PrEP drug Truvada, in May during a congressional hearing over the high cost of the drug.

“It means tackling the homelessness crisis among our LGBTQ youth,” she continued, with the sound of another “bwa-bwa-bwa-bwaaah” following. 

“It means decarcerating our society so that no trans woman and no person ever dies again in custody,” she said, alluding to the death of transgender Afro-Latina Layleen Polanco earlier this month in New York’s Rikers Island, as another round of air horns exploded. 

“It means no one is denied a job because of their gender identity, no matter what it is,” she said to a final blast.

Ocasio-Cortez wasn’t the only elected official at Bronx Pride. State Senator Alessandra Biaggi and Senator Chuck Schumer were also in attendance, supporting and taking photos with those who participated in the parade.

Since taking office, the young congresswoman has made issues confronting the LGBTQ community a top priortity.

Read: Historians And AOC Agree That Detention Centers Look Like Concentration Camps But Conservatives Don’t Want To Hear It

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