Basquiat Family Faces Criticism Over Commercialization of His Art

Basquiat Family Faces Criticism Over Commercialization of His Art

Friends of Basquiat are furious with the late artist’s relatives, who have been commercializing his art on products he wouldn't approve.

In a report by the New York Post on Nov. 15., friends of Jean-Michel Basquiat are furious with the late artist’s relatives, who have been commercializing his art on products he would never approve of.

Some people felt like Jean-Michel Basquiat’s legacy diminished as his work found its way onto scented candles, flip-flops, high-end bourbon, and even a welcome mat. Friends of the renowned artist, who passed away in 1988, expressed their discontent, accusing his sisters, Lisane Basquiat and Jeanine Heriveaux, of diluting his artistic legacy for financial gain.

“I personally think Jean-Michel would be horrified,” shared Claudia Summers with the Post, a friend and collaborator of Basquiat. She accuses his sisters of commercializing his work out of greed, stating, “They say they want to make Jean available to everyone. But they are diluting the power of his art.”

Despite attempts to reach out for comment, Lisane Basquiat and Jeanine Heriveaux did not respond to the outlet’s request.

While the commercialization of artists’ work is not uncommon, Al Diaz, an old-school graffiti artist who collaborated with Basquiat on the infamous SAMO tag, believes the Basquiat sisters have taken it further than most. Diaz, who had a legal dispute with the sisters over SAMO’s copyright, criticizes their merchandise handling, claiming, “The Basquiats have set the bar lower than anyone else.”

Critics argue that the Basquiat sisters have crossed boundaries by using his art on various consumer goods.

Diaz pointed out, “They take bits and pieces of a work and cut it up. That would bother most artists — unless they do the cutting. Someone else does it, and, seriously, that could be grounds for a fistfight.”

Summers took to Instagram to express her disdain for “the appalling greed of the Basquiat sisters,” prompting sharp responses from Basquiat’s former crew and beyond. Actress Debi Mazar and film director Katherine Dieckmann joined the chorus of disapproval, calling the commercialization “awful” and “sooo tone deaf.

The Basquiat welcome mats, in particular, draw extra criticism. Diaz asserts that Basquiat would have been upset about people wiping dirt onto his paintings. At the same time, Eszter Balint, who knew Basquiat and was writing a play about the downtown scene, stated, “His essence is so embedded in his art. This kind of flattening and fetishizing takes people further away from the art.”

Using Basquiat’s art and name on labels for Great Jones Distillery’s $45 bottles of bourbon also sparked controversy. Balint notes the connection between the promotion of alcohol and Basquiat’s death from a drug overdose, stating, “He believed that his art should be taken seriously. It’s been turned into kitsch.”

Representatives for Great Jones Distillery did not respond to requests for comment from The Post.

Joseph Sheridan, who ran in the same circles as Basquiat, emphasizes that the artist would not have approved of a liquor ad. “Jean-Michel would have thought it was tacky. He would have known those boundaries, sober or high.”

Summers sums up the sentiment of many critics, expressing anger not only for a friend but also for Basquiat’s family’s trivialization of great art.