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Painting Four Hands

In recent years, the Paris-based Foundation Louis Vuitton has put together a number of mega-exhibitions with Yayoi Kusama, Cindy Sherman, and Takashi Murakami. In April, an exclusive Jay-Z concert marked the opening of the house’s latest big launch, “Painting four hands” – a sprawling retrospective exhibition that explores the collaboration and strange friendship between two great icons of twentieth-century art, Andy Warhol (1928-1987) and Jean-Michel Basquiat (1960-1988).

“Painting four hands” begins in 1984 with the first meeting between the two artists. Warhol – who was known for almost immediately taking up a brush and painting portraits of his new acquaintances – was caught off guard when Basquiat promptly disappeared with a Polaroid of the two of them. According to the story, the iron, still dripping wet, square canvas on which he and Basquiat had caricatured each other landed a few hours later on the same table where they had lunch. It was the beginning of a special collaboration between the two, as they took turns exchanging paintings and engaging in deep, all-encompassing conversations, backing up what they said not only with words but also with brushstrokes.

Between 1984 and 1985, Basquiat and Warhol produced some 160 paintings together, “à quatre mains”, including some of the largest works of their careers. As their friend and fellow artist Keith Haring (1958-1990), another leading figure on the contemporary scene, put it of the two, “they spoke through painting rather than words” and that two minds merged to create a “third distinctive and unique mind”. Basquiat admired Warhol, looked up to him, was fascinated by the way he had become a dominant figure in the art world, a pioneer of a brand-new language and a revolutionary relationship with pop culture. Warhol, on the other hand, found in Basquiat a renewed interest in painting, and it was thanks to him that he returned to painting by hand.

“Painting four hands” is the largest exhibition ever devoted to this extraordinary and unique oeuvre, with over three hundred works and documents, including eighty signed by the two artists. There are also solo works by both artists, as well as works by other major artists (Michael Halsband, Keith Haring, Jenny Holzer) to evoke the unparalleled energy of the downtown New York art scene of the 1980s. Alongside the so-called lighter pieces, there are plenty of harder works as the two artists explore the racism that still dominates American society today – something Basquiat himself was often exposed to both on the streets and in his work in the New York art scene – as well as consumerism and capitalism. Many works of art are rarely seen, such as Basquiat’s version of Warhol’s iconic banana, in which the young artist becomes a caricature of Warhol.

The exhibition is on show at the Foundation Louis Vuitton in Paris until the end of the summer (28 August).