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Nets Display Andy Warhol’s Basquiat Portrait Ahead of Christie’s Auction

After a stay at the Barclays Center’s Crown Club, the legendary pop artist’s work is expected fetch more than $20 million on the auction block.

After the Brooklyn Nets paid homage to neighborhood legend Jean-Michel Basquiat last season with their City Edition jerseys and a special court inspired by his designs and trademark artistic style, the team took that a step further by hosting an iconic Basquiat portrait inside Barclays Center.

Specifically, the Nets partnered with the auction house Christie’s to display Andy Warhol’s iconic 1982 oxidized portrait of Basquiat on Sunday and Monday inside its new, exclusive lounge, the Crown Club, for the team’s first two home games of the season. It was the culmination of several conversations between the Nets and Christie’s and the first partnership of its kind with a traditional sports team, according to Michael Wandell, the Nets’ chief commercial officer.

“I certainly haven’t seen anything like this happen anywhere else across the sports industry,” he told Boardroom.

Kevin Durant posing next to Andy Warhol’s famous portrait of Jean-Michel Basquiat at Barclays Center’s Crown Club

The portrait is owned by Peter Brant, a famous publisher and art collector best known for his Warhol and Basquiat pieces. It’s the last painting of its kind in private hands, said Emily Kaplan, Christie’s vice president and co-head of 20th century evening sale, post-war and contemporary art. Brant is auctioning the iconic piece on Nov. 11, with the winning bid expected to exceed $20 million.

“We decided that Basquiat really belonged back in Brooklyn,” Kaplan told Boardroom as part of a private showing of the piece. “We had an amazing symbiotic conversation with the Nets and the whole team at Barclays about a partnership with bringing this work to the arena, and it was timed perfectly with the opening of the Crown Club leading into the auction. It really feels at home here.”

Warhol met Basquiat in 1982 when Warhol was already world-famous and well known, but Basquiat was still an emerging graffiti artist just entering his 20s.

“He was just on the precipice of breaking out and becoming this megastar and wunderkind,” Kaplan said. “And Warhol really understood that. No one understood celebrity better than Warhol. So he really wanted to meet Basquiat. I think Warhol wanted the youth and the freshness and the vitality that Basquiat had, this creativity and just burst of energy that Basquiat brought onto the scene. I think Warhol identified that talent in him really quickly.”

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The feeling of admiration was mutual, she said. Basquiat wanted to be accepted by the art world and saw Warhol as everything he wanted to be. The day they met is when Warhol took the photo of Basquiat that would become the basis for the portrait. It was actually Basquiat’s idea to use an oxidation pattern for the background of the piece. Warhol’s oxidation series in the ’70s was lesser-known and not hugely exhibited at the time, but it was something Basquiat specifically asked for and the only portrait on top of an oxidation painting Warhol ever made, Kaplan said.

The oxidation technique Warhol employed is, shall we say, extremely unique, as well as risqué and controversial at the time he utilized it.

“He would begin by painting the ground of the painting in a metallic paint, and then either he or various studio assistants would urinate on the canvas,” Kaplan said, “which would create this oxidation effect, these sort of green blooming spots, which actually ends up looking quite beautiful and striking. It was a bit of an outlier in that way, but also so radical at the time.”

Wandell said that the Nets and Christie’s are having advanced conversations on how they can broaden this partnership, where Barclays Center hosts other Christie’s artists and works of art in rotation, as well as other non-art items the auction house may possess, including rare sports memorabilia.

“The Crown Club is kind of the perfect space to tell that story,” he said.

Why the Basquiat portrait will sell for so much and possibly exceed the auction house’s $20 million estimates, Kaplan said, is that the Brooklyn legend is more relevant now than ever before. The Nets are certainly a reason for that, she said, but it’s also the Basquiat-themed clothing, tattoos, shoes, bags and apparel that have helped make his face and graffiti universally recognized.

And when we think about the celebrities Warhol painted during his storied career, like Marilyn Monroe, Jackie Kennedy, Liz Taylor, and Elvis Presley, those are works that have sold for hundreds of millions.

“Looking forward,” Kaplan said, “Basquiat might be even more relevant than them in the future. It shows how much foresight Warhol really had in painting a portrait of Basquiat at this moment.”

A moment in time nearly 40 years ago between two luminaries of modern art.

And for this week, that moment worth tens of millions was just another reason to watch the Nets in action live in Brooklyn.

About The Author
Shlomo Sprung
Shlomo Sprung
Shlomo Sprung is a Senior Staff Writer at Boardroom. He has more than a decade of experience in journalism, with past work appearing in Forbes, MLB.com, Awful Announcing, and The Sporting News. He graduated from the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism in 2011, and his Twitter and Spotify addictions are well under control. Just ask him.