Close friends of artist Jean-Michel Basquiat have spoken out against the advert from jewellers Tiffany which features Beyoncé and Jay-Z posing in front of one of his paintings saying it was “not really what he was about”. Basquiat’s 1982 work Equals Pi sits behind the couple in the campaign as Beyoncé wears a 128.54-carat yellow diamond, the first black woman to have done so.
Comment (from this Blueprint): This news item discusses the controversy surrounding a 2021 advert for the high-end jewelry brand Tiffany, featuring Beyoncé and Jay-Z, and, in the background, a rarely seen painting by Basquiat owned by Tiffany. This controversy serves to illustrate both the disappointment that hooks and others feel in how Basquiat's work has been consumed in a emotionally superficial and Eurocentric manner, as well as how his work has come to be a luxury object to be conspicuously consumed primarily by the elite and used for the sake of propagating such consumption of other luxury items to the elite (in this particular instance, a 128.54-carat yellow diamond previously worn by Audrey Hepburn and Lady Gaga). The aesthetic appreciation of the painting, when used as a prop for elite interests, is under scrutiny - and, equally, whether Basquiat's intentions and what he is trying to express through his work are respected in such use and whether should be. Moreover, many of Basquiat's works are privately owned and are not displayed to the public, only to elites. So, using this ad as a case study, we should note that aspects of specific class and status affiliations and interests can affect how appropriately or inappropriately an aesthetic object is consumed, if at all.