Unparalleled collection of 1980s street art and graffiti celebrating Loisaida’s singular scene featured at Christie’s

A map of the world covers a sleeping man as a hulking comic book villain hovers above his bed and stares at the barrel of a gun aimed directly at the viewer. The two men are rendered in thick black lines, the shape of the would-be aggressor imposed on the background where the map projected onto the sleeper is obscured by a frenzy of images. A green-fleshed alien stumbles after being impaled by a bullet to the skull, while a Doric column collapses and crushes an ancient equestrian statue. Images of US currency, bureaucracy, and possibly chemical warfare are overlaid on the map.

The frenetic scene amplifies the precariousness of the sleeping man, threatened by multiple nightmarish government-controlled forces.

The story keeps me up at night (for Rilo Chmielorz), a deeply symbolic and haunting collage of acrylic, spray paint and panel-printed paper by David Wojnarowicz, is the visceral culmination of the incomparable Loisaida: 1980s Graffiti And Street Art From The John P. Axelrod Collection. The first batch of 31 rare and masterful works covering a wide range of techniques and styles classified as graffiti and street art are expected to fetch between $800,000 and $1.2 million when auctioned at Christie’s Post sale -War & Contemporary Art Day on November 18. The collection will be presented to the public on Saturday at the flagship of Christie’s Rockefeller Center.

“This painting in particular captures all the patterns. This image deals with violence and deals with stories dealing with America,” Michael Baptist, Christie’s Postwar and Contemporary Art Department First Opening Scholar and Manager, said in a Zoom interview. “It comes at a time when he’s kind of really hit his technical stride, and he’s doing super complex multi-media works. He developed this technique in a very short time and was at his peak… when he made this picture ( in) 1986.”

Wojnarowicz in the mid-1980s began to incorporate his array of signs and symbols into complex compositions that serve as metaphors for a society that undermines the value of marginalized people. Some 26 years after his death from AIDS, in 2018 the Whitney Museum of American Art celebrated the career of the painter, photographer, writer, filmmaker, performance artist, musician, and AIDS activist who fought tirelessly for people living on the periphery, giving a voice to others. Name the exhibition Whitney The story keeps me up at night highlighted the lasting impact of Wojnarowicz’s work as we continue to struggle against violence and oppression through systems of power and control. We have overcome the AIDS crisis, but we are far from fostering a safe and egalitarian society outside of heteronormative discourse.

Axelrod’s visionary collection amplifies the impact and significance on art history of the pioneering ferocity of artists working on New York’s Loisaida, a term derived from the Nuyorican pronunciation of the Lower East Side, between 1980 and around 1985. Keith Haring is pictured alongside Futura, Rammelzee, CRASH, DAZE, Dondi, Lee Quinones, Lady Pink, A-One and other artists who make up an art scene that forever transformed the landscape of downtown Manhattan and the global art world.

The downtown Manhattan art scene of the early 1980s marked a seismic shift that continues to reinform our collective understanding of contemporary art and culture. Some four decades later, the still gritty Lower East Side is thriving as a hotbed of contemporary art galleries on nearly every block.

“I think John’s vision is to collect and, through collecting, to tell a story that has never been told before,” Baptist said. “When I looked at the collection as a whole, I really felt it represented those five years on the Lower East Side, and that’s a rare thing to achieve through a collection. … I think John, at some point recognized that something special had happened at that time, at that place, with those artists, and he saw an opportunity to build a collection around that and the story.

Exhibited only once in the year of its creation, Untitled (1980) features FUTURA 2000’s abstract approach to graffiti. Now known simply as Futura, artist born Leonard Hilton McGurr in 1955, exhibited in the early 1980s with Patti Astor at Fun Gallery alongside by Haring, Basquiat, Richard Hambleton and Kenny Scharf, and his work remains more relevant than ever. The monumental spray enamel on seminal and rare plywood, which belonged only to Axelrod, is expected to sell for between $70,000 and $100,000.

“The takeaways from this piece are its size (48 by 96 inches), its date, 1980, being very early for it, and Futura being sort of one of the biggest names in the scene,” Baptist said. . “From an auction perspective, (he has) the most international collector base. I know there are going to be a lot of people in Europe, especially in France, where he has a big community of collectors, who are going to be interested in this and that’s why we put it as the first batch of the collection .

Highlighting the seriousness of community in the early 1980s on the LES and East Village art scene, George Condo’s Def Jammy (1984) has special value because it was given to his dear friend Haring.

“All of the fun and incredibly inspiring times spent with Keith will always live deep in my heart. He was always my best friend. ‘Def Jammy’ was how graffiti artists referred to great painting at the time and so I made this coin to commemorate this phrase used by Toxic, A-One and Rammellzee,” Condo said.

A Polaroid shot by Scott Schedivy and held in the archives of the Keith Haring Foundation shows the beloved work hanging on the wall of Haring’s studio. Def Jammy, which is imbued with immeasurable personal and emotional value, is expected to sell for between $80,000 and $120,000.

“Keith hung it in his studio on Broadway forever! Over the years we gave each other art for free out of friendship and sometimes Keith would even buy one to help me out. Keith came in early 1989 in Paris as he finished some work and we were having dinner every night,” Condo said. “I begged him not to go back to New York because I was afraid I would never see him again. . And that was the last time I did. We always laughed even when he was very sick and often talked about art and mortality.”

One of the two Basquiats in the collection, Untitled (1982), which was exhibited only once in 2014, brings us back to Wojnarowicz’s intensity. Steep lines of red, black and burnt ocher depicting recurring motifs (sacred heart, crown) amplify Basquiat’s textual momentum and racist language subversion. The oil-on-paper stick depicting “TAR TOWN,” “POLLO FRITO,” and “NEW SOAP” is expected to fetch between $800,000 and $1.2 million. A recurring theme with Basquiat, he used various references to tar to counter racial injustices in the world of art and culture in general. The Spanish term for fried chicken is an attack on stereotypes that black people enjoy fried junk food, and a linguistic nod to his Puerto Rican and LES ancestry. The “new soap” has many connotations, including efforts to whitewash or erase black culture.

There is a simplicity to this work, with Basquiat using multiple motifs and texts rather than figures to convey racial and social injustice. Complexity erupts from the mixture of self-referential motifs and text intertwining with symbols and themes that continue to provoke viewers and behave like timeless social critique.

“Some people have even pointed the finger at (the broken glass) referring to Kristallnacht. I don’t know if that’s exaggerated or not, but all history aside, broken glass is something we come across all time on the street, and that’s part of city life,” Baptist said. “I think he’s not always looking, when he’s composing works like this, to make a definitive statement, but rather to put together a number of patterns to make a picture that other artists might paint with figures, but in this case he uses text and symbols.

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