Friends and collaborators of Jean-Michel Basquiat say they are “horrified” by the new Tiffany & Co. ad campaign featuring Beyoncé and Jay-Z posing alongside a painting by the late artist.
Alexis Adler, who lived with Basquiat between 1979 and 1980, told The Daily Beast Sunday, “I’d seen the ad a couple days ago, and I was horrified.
“The commercialization and commodification of Jean and his art at this point — it’s really not what Jean was about,” she said.
Adler said that the anti-capitalist artist, who died at age 27 in 1988, would have wanted his art to be placed in museums so that it’s accessible to the public.
“Unfortunately, the museums came to Jean’s art late, so most of his art is in private hands and people don’t get to see that art except for the shows. Why show it as a prop to an ad?” she said.
“Loan it out to a museum. In a time where there were very few Black artists represented in Western museums, that was his goal: to get to a museum.”
In the campaign, Beyoncé, 40, is seen wearing an enormous $30 million Tiffany yellow diamond necklace while Jay, 51, sports a suit with Jean Schlumberger’s Bird on a Rock brooch repurposed as cufflinks.
The gem-encrusted promo features the painting “Equals Pi” by Basquiat, known for his graffiti-inspired works that focused on class dichotomies in America. It was bought by Tiffany & Co. from a private collection and had never been publicly displayed until now.
Stephen Torton, who worked as Basquiat’s assistant, does not think Tiffany would not have welcomed Basquiat when he was alive.
“They wouldn’t have let Jean-Michel into a Tiffany’s if he wanted to use the bathroom, or, if he went to buy an engagement ring and pulled a wad of cash out of his pocket. We couldn’t even get a cab,” he told The Daily Beast.
Torton — who mixed the paint for the artwork — insisted that Basquiat did not intend the blue in the piece to resemble Tiffany’s signature blue, as the company has suggested.
He said on Instagram: “The idea that this blue background, which I mixed and applied was in any way related to Tiffany Blue, is so absurd that at first I chose not to comment.
“But this very perverse appropriation of the artist’s inspiration is just too much.”
Tiffany & Co. said in a press release it included the painting in the ad because art has been a “common thread throughout” Beyoncé and Jay-Z’s “love story.”
Alexandre Arnault, Tiffany’s executive vice president of products and communications, went as far as to suggest that the robin eggshell blue in the painting was deliberately mixed to match the company’s signature color.
“We don’t have any literature that says he made the painting for Tiffany,” Arnault told Yahoo. “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.
“As you can see, there is zero Tiffany blue in the campaign other than the painting,” he said, adding artwork will be permanently placed in Tiffany’s flagship Fifth Avenue store. “It’s a way to modernize Tiffany blue.”
The Post previously reported the artwork’s appearance in the ad has divided social media.
“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),” said one detractor on Twitter. “His art was all about pain & beauty in low places, so, it comes across as a tone deaf & flippant flex on his legacy.”
“The fact that they showed off this never-before-seen piece of art from Jean-Michel Basquiat for an ADVERTISEMENT doesn’t sit well with my spirits…,” complained another.
Reps for Tiffany, Beyoncé and Jay-Z didn’t immediately get back to us.