From opposite ends of the 20th century, from Europe – Vienna – to America – New York, the lives and works of Egon Schiele and Jean-Michel Basquiat are fascinating for their fleetingness and their intensity.
Both died aged 28. In under a decade, they became major figures in the art of their century. They are linked by their destiny and their fortune, that of a short-lived body of work, the impact and permanency of which have few equals. Their formidable output can be explained by their passion for life which today, in the 21st century, has made them real “icons” for new generations. The vital necessity of art is the main element in these two exceptional bodies of work.
“I will get to a point where one will be alarmed by the greatness of each of my ‘living’ works”, wrote Schiele. Breaking with the academic system, he rejected previous models. For him “there is no modern art, but rather there is only one art that is eternal”*.
For its part, the work of Jean-Michel Basquiat, first painted on walls, cannot be understood separately from the revolt which animates it, the will to disrupt the established order and escape from canons and hierarchies. “Royalty, heroism and the streets” were Basquiat’s subjects for his art. Presented separately in two different sequences, these exhibitions respect the specific context of each body of work, two moments which were as rich as they were different from each other.
For Schiele, Vienna in 1900, the capital of the Austro-Hungarian empire, a leading centre of intellectual and artistic life marked by the Secession, the jugendstil and the birth of an effervescent intellectual and artistic modernity. For Basquiat, New York in the early 1980s, with the vitality of its underground scene, urban downtown culture, and questions relative to art and identity.
In their uniqueness, these two presentations are in line with one of the Collection’s four themes: the subjective and expressionist vision of the artist. As Suzanne Pagé remarked, “Through the permanency of the portrayals, the two exceptionally intense bodies of work dazzlingly and irreducibly translate a deep and deeply incarnated distress, by means of a particularly striking line. With Schiele, a distorted and tortured line raises worrying questions and dares to express crude sexuality by way of implacable introspection and the harsh gaze he trains on himself and on his models, with whom he identified. The premonition of tragedy is everywhere.
With Basquiat, a line infused with youthful impetus and carried by real rage aims to impose the presence of the black figure, following the artist’s painful realisation of its absence in the world of art, and particularly in museums”.
With Egon Schiele, it is the first time that the Fondation Louis Vuitton has dedicated a monograph to an “historical” artist. It is also the first time that it has hosted a exhibition of this size devoted to a single artist, Jean-Michel Basquiat, a strong presence in the Collection. The Fondation thereby reiterates its will to anchor its commitment to current creation in a historical perspective.