Fondation Beyeler’s curator Iris Hasler gives context to the unique masterpieces of Jean-Michel Basquiat.

The Modena Paintings by Jean-Michel Basquiat remain stand-out works amongst the legendary artist’s oeuvre. They are not only fascinating from a technical standpoint, but also due to their rich history. 

With the Basquiat. Modena Paintings exhibition currently on view at Fondation Beyeler, we turned to the exhibition’s curator Iris Hasler for a more contextual look at the idiosyncratic masterpieces. It is no surprise they served as inspiration for THE SKATEROOM’s recent collection of skateboard art editions. 

What makes the Modena Paintings so unique amongst Basquiat’s other works?

The Modena paintings are works which Jean-Michel Basquiat painted in 1982, in the Italian city of Modena. They were meant to be shown in an exhibition in Modena in the same year, but the exhibition never took place.The paintings all have a huge format, measuring 4-5 meters in length and at least 2 meters in height. Some of them have the typical Basquiat-elements such as words, numbers and little fragments of texts. They are very painterly and have an abstract background. In front of this abstract background we see figures and animals. 

What is the relationship between Jean-Michel Basquiat and Fondation Beyeler?

[In addition to] our retrospective on Jean-Michel Basquiat, Ernst Beyeler, the founder of the gallery, already sold works by Basquiat in 1983. He had a group show titled “Painting from Picasso to Basquiat” and he incorporated a few works from Basquiat already back then. 

Close-up detail of Jean-Michel Basquiat's 'The Guilt of Gold Teeth' Modena painting

What was the process of organizing this special exhibition?

In 2012, Fondation Beyeler showed a retrospective on Jean-Michel Basquiat’s work, and so three of these paintings were in our museum back then, for the show. Then we found out about the planned exhibition from 1982. We thought it would be interesting to finally put the show together.

All works © Estate of Jean-Michel Basquiat. Licensed by Artestar, New York.