Last days of Schiele and Basquiat at Louis Vuitton Foundation: a duo so improbable to become a real once-in-a-lifetime event

Text by: Fiammetta Cesana
Photos by: Valeria Castoldi

By the end of November I was in Paris visiting a dear friend of mine, and while wondering around her neighborhood, looking at the artsy spaces’ parade in the rues of Saint Germain de Pres, I decided to go on the subway to reach the long-spoken exhibition by Dieter Buchhart. The Foundation designed by the Deconstructivist master Frank Gehry in 2014 hosts until January 20 two iconic artists of modern age, which seem to have nothing in common except the misfortunate contingency of dying at 28. Several stops and arrondissements later, I arrived at Avenue du Mahatma Gandhi where dozens of people were lining to enter the Louis Vuitton art temple. Despite my hatred for queues (who loves them?) and the freezing temperature too, I joined that lively crowd for one hour and a half, and now could definitely say it worths the awaiting! 

These two iconic artists, whose extreme diversities – of time period, nationality and technique – have been able to beautifully converge together into a mutual vitality of art expression which explodes through the Parisienne collection. One belonging to the Austrian Secession era when Vienna turned into an artistic and intellectual fulcrum and a harbinger of independent currents, and the other who became the 80s New York superstar of the underground art scenario… Egon Schiele and Jean-Michel Baquiat both enhance the individual and expressionist vision of the artist, which embraces one of the main themes of the exhibition itself.

“I will come to a point where people will be alarmed by the magnitude of each of my ‘living’ works.” Schiele stated. And he got that point undoubtedly: being in front of his works triggers the feeling of an almost inexplicable intensity, evocative in the portrayed faces, and impregnated with sensuality. Different and the same is the emotional impact of Basquiat’s brightly colored murals, whose flat, instinctive and confused shapes, yet full of clear symbols and narrative elements, create a powerful storytelling of political and social struggle.

As Suzanne Pagé, who complemented Buchhart in the show’s curation, suggests, the works of the two young talents are linked by a strong feeling of anguish, on one side expressed by the “crooked and tortured lines” that creep into the Austrian characters’ soul, raising a rough psychological introspection, and the other provoked by the poignant hip-hop poetry that craves for change shouting the artist’s anger through the streets of New York. The intimate investigation of Schiele’s drawings embraces the urban revolution of Basquiat in a surprisingly effective way, immersing the viewer in a suggestive fleeting vortex, given by the stylized artistic approach similar to a sketch, and at the same time into a durable one, for the indelible memory that leaves him.

This coupled exhibition, as the Italians say, is more a unique than a rare opportunity. Actually the term “unique” has never been more appropriate than now, since the show has been claimed to be literally unrepeatable for many reasons. Buchhart – entitled as the greatest Basquiat’s expert in the world – states in a interview with Artsy: “This is the most comprehensive Basquiat show, and perhaps one day, one of the other great museums will try it again, but it will be very, very, very hard. It will kind of be a ‘Mission: Impossible.” Maybe, you have never thought about how difficult can be staging the exhibition of a worldwide popular artist… Well, you just have to know that it is incredibly expensive and usually, as in this case, feasible for one single time.

The Louis Vuitton Foundation’s show indeed comprises 120 operas of Schiele, including drawing, gouaches and paintings, and as many of Basquiat. It enacts an actual retrospective on the American street artist’s body of work, that won’t be able to be staged again. First of all because the costs of the shipping insurance for such a large collection – where some pieces’s price exceeds 7 zeros – are enormous and only major museum could afford them. Secondly because, given the unpopularity of Basquiat during his lifetime and consequently the poor interests of art institutions into his works by that time, now the majority of his pieces are owned by private collectors who are very reluctant to loan their precious holdings to galleries.  

No matter the line or the unpredictable Parisian weather, you definitely should experience this more unique than ever art happening, enjoying the assemblage of two distant worlds into one memorable expressionist spectacle. 

Basquiat, installation, Louis Vuitton Fondation, Paris, Courtesy of Louis Vuitton
Schiele, installation, Louis Vuitton Fondation, Paris, Courtesy of Louis Vuitton
Basquiat, installation, Louis Vuitton Fondation, Paris, Courtesy of Louis Vuitton
Schiele, installation, Louis Vuitton Fondation, Paris, Courtesy of Louis Vuitton
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“Egon Schiele – Jean-Michel Basquiat”
Louis Vuitton Foundation in collaboration with Brant Foundation Art Study Center
Avenue du Mahatma Gandhi 8, Bois de Boulogne, 75116 Paris
October 3, 2018 to January 20, 2019