This article was originally published by The Art Newspaper, an editorial partner of CNN Style.
More than four decades after Jean-Michel Basquiat and his gallerists canceled a contentious exhibition in Italy featuring eight newly commissioned paintings, a new exhibition is reuniting all of the works for the first time.
" Basquiat: The Modena Paintings," which will open next month at the Fondation Beyeler in Basel, Switzerland, includes "The Guilt of Gold Teeth," which sold for $40 million at Christie's in 2021.
In 1982, the Italian gallerist Emilio Mazzoli invited Basquiat to make the works for a one-off show, providing work premises and painting supplies. The graffiti artist painted over discarded canvases used by another artist, Mario Schifano, scrawling "Modena" on the back. But complications over payment of the works led to the cancellation of the planned exhibition in Europe just as he was reaching worldwide fame.
Each of the large-scale works are now held in eight separate private collections in the US, Asia and Switzerland.
In a 1985 interview with the New York Times, Basquiat outlined how much he disliked the Modena experience. "They set it up for me so I'd have to make eight paintings in a week," he said. Meanwhile, working in the provided warehouse premises felt to him "like a factory, a sick factory," he added. "I hated it." The works found new buyers via Basquiat's New York dealer at the time, Annina Nosei.
The "Modena Paintings" share several motifs and stylistic features, according to a Fondation Beyeler statement, including "a monumental, often black figure set against a background of broad, gestural and expressive brushstrokes... the human and the animal body take center stage."
Sam Keller, the director of the Fondation Beyeler, told The Art Newspaper: "With every next generation, the importance of Basquiat's work is increasing further. His combination of images and words referring to high and popular culture, history, science, social and economic injustice was truly ahead of his time and more relevant today than ever. The Modena paintings were created over 40 years ago and have never been shown together before. It's going to be exciting to finally reunite them."
The average insurance value of each of these works is $100 million with the group of eight works totaling $800 million, according to the Fondation Beyeler.
The market boom for Basquiat continues with major works by the late US street artist dominating sales season in New York this month. "Moon View," from 1984, from the collection of the late music mogul Mo Ostin, will go on the block at Sotheby's on May 16, with a high estimate of $10 million. That same week, Christie's is offering "El Gran Espectaculo (The Nile)," from 1983, from the collection of Italian fashion designer Valentino Garavani, on May 15 with an estimate in the region of $45 million.
Top image: "The Guilt of Gold Teeth" by Basquiat.