Art Attack August 24, 2021 at 10:30 am

All about the rare painting by Haitian-Puerto Rican Basquiat that starred in Beyonce’s new jewelry ad

Mildred Europa Taylor | Head of Content

Mildred Europa Taylor August 24, 2021 at 10:30 am

August 24, 2021 at 10:30 am | Art Attack

Beyonce and Jay-Z pose as part of Tiffany & Co's "About Love" campaign. COURTESY OF TIFFANY & CO.

Singer Beyoncé and her rapper husband Jay-Z have posed in their first-ever advertisement with Tiffany & Co. as part of the luxury jeweler’s About Love campaign. Beyoncé can be seen wearing a large yellow diamond necklace in photos shared from the campaign “celebrating modern love”. The necklace is the iconic 128-carat Tiffany Diamond, which the company acquired in 1878.

Rarely put on display, the necklace has previously been worn by Audrey Hepburn in Breakfast at Tiffany’s and by Lady Gaga at the Oscars in 2019. Beyoncé becomes the fourth woman, and the first Black woman, to wear the diamond in more than 100 years.

Jay-Z is seen in the ad wearing the luxury jeweler’s Apollo brooch in yellow gold and platinum with diamonds, which sells for $40,000. The couple were chosen for the ad because their 13-year relationship embodies the kind of love story the jewelry brand cherishes.

On the brand’s website, the couple are quoted as saying: “Love is the diamond that the jewelry and art decorate.”

But that’s not the only aspect of the jewelry ad grabbing people’s attention. Some of the photos from the ad show the couple posed alongside a rare painting by Haitian-Puerto Rican artist Jean-Michel Basquiat called Equals Pi. The 1982 work, which is not really unknown to the art market, was previously owned by a private collector before Tiffany & Co. acquired it.

It depicts a figure in a dunce cap alongside the phrase “Ten Yen”, which, according to Forbes, could reference “the Japanese coins that were first created in 1955 and reportedly have symbolized economic growth in Japan.”

Perhaps the most striking element of the painting is the hue of its background which is similar to Tiffany’s iconic robin’s egg blue.

“We don’t have any literature that says he made the painting for Tiffany,” Alexandre Arnault, the executive vice president of products and communications at Tiffany’s, told Women’s Wear Daily. “But we know a little bit about Basquiat. We know his family. We did an exhibition of his work at the Louis Vuitton Foundation a few years back. We know he loved New York, and that he loved luxury and he loved jewelry. My guess is that the [blue painting] is not by chance. The color is so specific that it has to be some kind of homage,” said Arnault, who is the son of LVMH chairman and mega-art collector Bernard Arnault.

According to Artnet News, the painting was recently sold to the Arnault family for a price in the range of $15 million to $20 million. In June 1990, just two years after the death of Basquiat, the painting was offered at Sotheby’s London. It, however, failed to sell. Six years later, the painting came to auction again at Sotheby’s London, where it sold for $253,000. The work’s most recent previous owners were the famous Sabbadini family based in Milan; they own the Sabbadini jewelry house.

Equals pi is expected to be displayed in Tiffany’s flagship boutique on Fifth Avenue, which is undergoing renovation at the moment, Arnault told Women’s Wear Daily.

Basquiat, whose auction record currently stands at $110.5 million, is an important and rising figure in popular global arts and culture although deceased. Tiffany said it included Basquiat’s painting in the ad because art has been a “common thread throughout” Beyonce and Jay-Z’s “love story.”

The couple, who own an art collection including Basquiat’s painting Mecca, have earlier posed alongside iconic artworks in the past such as Leonardo Da Vinci’s Mona Lisa in the Louvre. But fans are not happy with the power couple for posing alongside the rare art piece. On Twitter, people asked why the painting was debuted in a luxury campaign and wondered if Basquiat would be comfortable having his work featured in a jewelry ad given that he was an anti-capitalist.

“They been hiding a Basquiat for decades just to use it for a Tiffany’s ad?” one asked. “Basquiat wasn’t the type of person or artist to approve of his pieces being used in an ad from multiple billionaires (uncontextualized, at that),” another said.

Born on December 22, 1960, to a Haitian father and a mother of Puerto-Rican descent in Brooklyn, Basquiat experienced a great deal at a young age. He was in a car accident that resulted in a splenectomy at age seven, his parents divorced at the same age; his mother, who first introduced him to art, was committed into a mental institution, and he dropped out of school by the age of 15. But within a few years, he went from being homeless and unemployed to selling his paintings for $25,000.

Although many people know him for his celebrity status, as he was friends with pop artiste Andy Warhol, wore Armani suits splattered with paint from his work, and dated Madonna, the painter’s work was politic and deserves its own fanfare.

Basquiat was intentional and well versed in the social issues of his time. He once said, “the black person is the protagonist in most of my paintings. I realized that I didn’t see many paintings with black people in them.” Basquiat died at the age of 27 from a heroin overdose but he lives forever through his art and the impact of his work and influence on American movements and pop culture.

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