Not long ago, the world was awestruck when Tiffany & Co. unveiled a new ad featuring Shawn "Jay-Z" Carter and Beyoncé Knowles standing behind a previously unseen painting from the great Jean-Michel Basquiat. While the ad impressed many, it did not draw favor from those who knew and loved Basquiat. In an interview with Tirhakah Love of the Daily Beast, a number of Basquiat's loved ones said that he would be "horrified" by the "commercialization and commodification" by Tiffany & Co. and many other brands.
“I’d seen the ad a couple [of] days ago and I was horrified,” Alexis Adler, who lived with Basquiat for two years, told Love.
“The commercialization and commodification of Jean and his art at this point—it’s really not what Jean was about."
Commercialization and luxury are cornerstones of the latest Tiffany campaign that was unveiled recently. Aside from the newly unveiled Basquiat piece, Tiffany pointed out that Knowles was wearing a 128.54-carat Tiffany Diamond that has only been worn by Audrey Hepburn and Lady Gaga. The extremely rare jewel was "unearthed" from South Africa in the 19th century and has been described as a "blood diamond" by the Daily Beast and a "symbol of colonialism" by the Washington Post. While this level of flashiness may impress some, Basquiat's loved ones don't believe he would be flattered by it.
“People think that his association with luxury was because he was impressed with that s---, but he couldn’t care less," Basquiat's former collaborator, Al Diaz.
“It’s not just about wearing an Armani suit. If he wore it, it’s because he could buy it and f--- it up, it wasn’t because the stitches were fabulous or well-made.”
Moving forward, Basquiat's friends and loved ones encourage others to use and showcase his work in ways that he would have wanted.
“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?” Adler asked.
“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.”