Doyle Auction Highlights Accessible Objects by Sherman, Basquiat, Scharf, and Koons
Through September 27th, Artsy and Doyle’s “’80s Downtown Art” auction reunites a number of artists from New York’s East Village art scene: from the graffiti pioneers Fab 5 Freddy and Futura 2000 to the post-Pop artists Jeff Koons and Ronnie Cutrone.
During the 1980s, young artists such as Jean-Michel Basquiat and Keith Haring flocked to downtown New York, finding a creative haven in the East Village. The cheap rents below 14th street attracted a wide variety of creatives—graffiti artists, poets, filmmakers, writers, and musicians—across many stylistic genres, from hip hop to punk to no wave. Gallerists (many of whom were artists themselves) followed suit, bringing with them the uptown collectors, museum directors, and art critics who would fund and popularize this underground movement. Highlighting the diversity of this art-historical period, “’80s Downtown Art” also captures a lesser-known facet of the East Village art scene: the fact that many of its artists would later go on to produce their own merchandise and design objects.
Integral to this venture was Haring, the Pennsylvania-born artist and activist most known for his subway drawings of graphic, outlined figures. In 1986, Haring controversially opened his own commercial store on Lafayette street, which he called the Pop Shop. The shop sold affordable clothing and gift items designed by Haring himself, such as the AM-FM radio and painter’s hat featured in Artsy and Doyle’s online sale. By this time, Haring had become an art-world celebrity, his paintings outside the pricepoint of the average buyer. Yet, much like Andy Warhol a generation before, Haring was a populist artist who believed that art should be available for everyone to purchase, not just the elite. “The Pop Shop makes my work accessible,” Haring once said, “It’s about participation on a big level.”
Haring’s Pop Shop also featured design items by his contemporaries, namely Kenny Scharf, Futura 2000, and LA2. A staple of the East Village art scene, Scharf was Haring’s close friend and one-time roommate, who similarly wanted art to be integrated into people’s everyday lives. In his paintings and murals, Scharf invented a playful cast of characters, including smiling dogs and warped cartoon faces, which he later resurfaced on skateboards, watches, shoes, teacups, and other household items. More recently, Scharf has even produced children’s toys like his brightly-colored resin sculptures Cateyeguy and Dogeyeguy.
Pictures Generation photographer Cindy Sherman and Neo-Geo artist Koons also rose to prominence during this period, and have since turned to product design to amplify the reach of their most iconic works. In 2014, Sherman designed Untitled Film Still Tray to support the Sundance Film Festival, featuring a black-and-white photograph from her famed series “Untitled Film Stills” (1977-80) on a ceramic platter. No doubt influenced by Haring’s Pop Shop, Koons has also created a host of editioned design objects, such as iPhone cases and split-rocker vases. In 2015, Koons partnered with the Museum of Contemporary Art in Los Angeles and the French porcelain company Bernardaud to create a series of 2,300 limited edition balloon dog plates, one of which is currently up for auction. Originally offered at $8,000 apiece—with proceeds benefitting the museum’s endowment—these works have since risen in value, according to recent results.
In 2014, the Estate of Jean-Michel Basquiat produced a series of skate decks in collaboration with the non-profit The Skateroom. These limited-edition triptychs highlight the late artist’s most recognizable works from the early ’80s and can be hung on the wall like paintings. The piece in Doyle’s “’80s Downtown Art” sale, for example, features Basquiat’s portrait Untitled (1981). Moving from the street to the gallery and now into the home, Basquiat’s works continue to probe at questions surrounding fame, commerce, and fine art, even after the artist’s death in 1988.
While Haring died in 1990, his Pop Shop remained open to the public until 2005. In its three decades in operation, the store rarely turned a profit—a fact that puzzled critics who had deemed the Pop Shop a mere commercial venture. Considered the antecedent to the large museum gift shop, the Pop Shop spearheaded the artist-produced design object, inspiring Scharf, Sherman, and Koons, among others, to market their works to a larger audience. After all, as Haring once explained, “The public needs art.”