tony shafrazi

Artists in New York City pictured April 23, 1985 at Mr. Chow restaurant from top left: Michael Heizer, David Hockney, Leroy Nieman, Dennis Oppenheim, Stefano, Bill Wegman, John Chamberlain, Andy Warhol, Julian Schnabel, Armand Arman, Alex Katz, Keith Haring, Kenny Scharf, Tony Shafrazi, Red Grooms, Jean-Michel Basquiat, Francesco Clemente, Robert MappleThorpe, Ronnie Cutrone, Sandro Chia. Plus: Nam June Paik, Jennifer Barlett, Jack Goldstein, Jenny Holzer, Barbara Kruger, Les Levine, Sol Lewitt, Marisol, Peter Max, Meredith Monk, Larry Rivers, Survival Research Labs (Mark Pauline, Mat Heckert, Eric Berner), Mark van den Broek, Tom Wesselman and Greer Langton.

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Now and Then New York #19

  • Now: December 4, 2016
  • Now and Then Overlay
  • Then: September 14, 1985

We’re here on the west side of Mercer Street looking north toward West Houston. When I first eyeballed photographer Ricky Powell’s snapshot of Jean-Michel Basquiat and Andy Warhol here I was pulled to the spot. Thanks to the creation of the Soho-Cast Iron Historic District in 1973, most of the landscape details are still intact and help conjure up the artists again. 

Speaking with George Leonidou in a post to 1981.nyc called “Homeboy Throw In The Towel…This Interview’s With Ricky Powell,” Powell remembered the genesis of his image like this:

Went to this fuckin’ Basquiat and Warhol show and I ended up taking pictures of one of my favorite graffiti dynamic duos ZEPHYR and REVOLT across the street while waiting for Warhol and Basquiat to come to this thing. We’re looking at the whole crowd outside of Tony Shafrazi Gallery on Mercer Street, and you see ‘em coming, so I said hold up. Loped across Mercer Street to Warhol and Baquiat as they were approaching from Houston Street going south, with the crowd behind me. I kind of did, y’know, a little passing route in between them and them. So I stopped [Basquiat and Warhol], and said, “Yo, you mind if I get a flick?” Basquiat says to Warhol, “Yeah, he’s cool.” They posed for me and I took that flick of them. I said thanks and they walked on. I then walked back to ZEPHYR and you see the crowd go bananas on them. I went and ZEPHYR and REVOLT were like, “ Oh shit.”

I’d probably have used the “Oh shit” line too after that experience!

Now Tony Shafrazi’s gallery was located at 163 Mercer, just behind Powell’s camera set up. In 1985 from September 14th to October 19th, Shafrazi and art dealer Bruno Bischofberger produced an exhibition of 16 collaborations between the two artists there dubbed “Warhol & Basquiat: Paintings.” Although Powell doesn’t cite an exact date for his photo, I place it on the first night of the feature: September 14th. Let me explain.

In his book Jean-Michel Basquiat: A Biography [2010], Eric Fretz described the showcase at Shafrazi’s like this:

On September 14, 1985, when Warhol arrived at the opening by cab, he found the gallery packed. A doorman was needed to police the crowd that was spilled out onto Mercer Street, where idling limousines waited.

So Fretz establishes the date Warhol was there, but how about Basquiat? Well, his report continued with this:

Basquiat, wearing a shimmering blue shirt and his hair tucked into his hat, seemed to enjoy the buzz. But he did not talk to Warhol at the opening and was conspicuously absent from the night’s dinner party at his favorite restaurant, Mr. Chow’s.

In Powell’s shot, the painter is both sporting that “shimmering blue shirt” and also has “his hair tucked into his hat,” so the 14th has to be right. But to assuage my unusually skeptical conscience, let’s consult another source.

In The Andy Warhol Diaries [1989] edited by Pat Hackett, part of Warhol’s entry for September 14, 1985 contained this passage:

Called Jean Michel and said I’d pick him up and did. Went over to the Tony Shafrazi Gallery (cab $5) and it was wall to wall. I was wearing the Stefano jacket with Jean Michel’s picture painted on the back, but I’ve decided I can’t wear odd things, I look like a weirdo. I’m going to stay in basic black.

Again, in Powell’s print, Warhol is wearing the jacket with one of Basquiat’s face drawings that made him feel “like a weirdo.” (Haha! Sorry, I can’t get over his admission.) Anyway, although Fretz and Warhol’s recollections seem to be at odds over how the two artists connected at Mercer Street, this much is true: Basquiat and Warhol were side by side for their close up on September 14, 1985.

But wait! How did people respond to the show? Well, check out a fragment of what New York Times reviewer Vivien Raynor conveyed on September 20, 1985:

LAST year, I wrote of Jean-Michel Basquiat that he had a chance of becoming a very good painter providing he didn’t succumb to the forces that would make him an art world mascot. This year, it appears that those forces have prevailed, for Basquiat is now onstage at the Tony Shafrazi Gallery…doing a pas de deux with Andy Warhol, a mentor who assisted in his rise to fame.

Actually, it’s a version of the Oedipus story: Warhol, one of Pop’s pops, paints, say, General Electric’s logo, a New York Post headline or his own image of dentures; his 25-year-old protege adds to or subtracts from it with his more or less expressionistic imagery….

But here and now, the collaboration looks like one of Warhol’s manipulations, which increasingly seem based on the Mencken theory about nobody going broke underestimating the public’s intelligence. Basquiat, meanwhile, comes across as the all too willing accessory.

Offered in the same spirit as the show’s poster featuring photographs of the artists dressed as boxers at the ready, the verdict is: “Warhol, TKO in 16 rounds.”

Wow. I wonder how Basquait took that “art world mascot” taxonomy. In an entry dated Thursday, September 19, 1985, however, we do know how Warhol reacted to the label as he confided this to his diary:

When we were at the Odeon I asked for the paper, and there in Friday’s Times I saw a big headline: “Basquiat and Warhol in Pas de Deux.” And I just read one line–that Jean Michel was my “mascot." 

Oh God.

Honestly, for me it was a blessing to have a friend like Christy. I was so indebted to her for so many things. You know, when I was younger there were certain designers who hadn’t used models of color in their shows, and Christy and Linda said to them, “If you don’t take Naomi, then you don’t get us.” My friends and comrades stuck up for me—and that doesn’t happen in fashion. I will never forget that. I don’t forget what people do. No matter how many years go by, I always remember.
—  Naomi Campbell, Interview October 2010
There are always obstacles in life, and even if I did see obstacles, I never looked at it like, “Okay, we can’t achieve what we wanted. We can’t achieve what needs to be achieved.” I’d look at whatever obstacles were in front of me and find the people who could help me overcome them. Patrick Demarchelier was the one who got me my first Vogue cover. It was French Vogue—I think in ’87 or ’88. I think I was the first black model to be on the cover of French Vogue, which was shocking to me because when I asked them about it, they were like, “Oh, no. We’ve never had that before.” And I was like, “Oh, really?” I remember one time I went to Australia. I don’t know if this is true or not, but the editor in chief of a magazine there told me that she got fired for putting me on the cover.
—  Naomi Campbell, Interview October 2010
Went to an artist talk yesterday with Dan Colen and Peter Brant at SVA and look who I ran into on the way in. The legendary art dealer Tony Shafrazi!! The man who represented Basquiat and Keith Haring in their heyday. He also put together the infamous Basquiat and Warhol exhibition. He’s done so much more…was a great honor to meet him.
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Shafrazi 74

peace to Joe Riley on this one

‘Shafrazi’s 1974 attack on Picasso’s “Guernica” in which he spray painted “KILL LIES ALL” across the painting. Shafrazi was a member of the Art Workers’ Coalition, which in 1970 had staged a protest at MoMA by unfurling a copy of the famous My Lai protest poster And babies in front of “Guernica”.’

“I wanted to bring the art absolutely up to date, to retrieve it from art history and give it life. Maybe that’s why the Guernica action remains so difficult to deal with. I tried to trespass beyond that invisible barrier that no one is allowed to cross; I wanted to dwell within the act of the painting’s creation, get involved with the making of the work, put my hand within it and by that act encourage the individual viewer to challenge it, deal with it and thus see it in its dynamic raw state as it was being made, not as a piece of history.”

Tony Shafrazi on why he defaced Guernica, Art in America in December 1980