Jean-Michel Basquiat (1960–1988) created the valuable paintings in American history, with two of his untitled works selling for $110.5 million and $26.4 million. He was entirely self-taught and became internationally prominent while in his mid-20s.
Basquiat single-handedly toppled elitism in the art world, rejuvenating it as a result and bringing it to a new generation of admirers. He first participated in the art gallery circuit as a critic, not as a wannabe. His graffiti was done with others under the name "SAMO©", and it was critical of elitism in the art world:
- SAMO©...4 THE SO-CALLED AVANT-GARDE
- SAMO as an alternative 2 playing art with the ‘radical chic' sect on Daddy's$funds
Formerly homeless in New York City, Basquiat was a graffiti artist who developed into an accomplished canvas painter as part of the emerging "Neo-Expressionism" school of art, which is seen by some as an extension of the Abstract Expressionism of the 1950s. Basquiat voluntarily abandoned his graffiti work as he burst, first as a critic, onto the scene of the art world.
Basquiat's style consisted of a disarming simplicity, creating a unique style benefiting from the best of urban graffiti and his occasional mentor Andy Warhol's pop art. Basquiat was comfortable communicating political messages in his work, sometimes against institutions and colonialism.
Basquiat is credited with bringing art back to human elements after modern art had largely abandoned it with the popularity of Conceptualism and Minimalism in the 1960s and 1970s.
His life was tragically cut short by a heroin addiction.