While not unheard of, it’s always fascinating when the art collector selling a particular artwork rivals the level of fame as the creator of said artwork. There’s an argument to be made that such is the case with Phillips’ recent announcement that two works by neo-expressionist icon Jean-Michel Basquiat from the collection of former Minnesota State Supreme Court Justice and NFL Hall of Famer Alan Page will be previewed at Phillips Southampton through May 31, before going up for auction on June 24.
The two Basquiat pieces, “Untitled (Starvation)” and “Untitled (The Athlete),” lived in Justice Alan and Diane Page’s acclaimed collection for decades and have been authenticated by the artist’s father, Gerard Basquiat. They are considered milestones of the revolutionary approach that launched Basquiat to international acclaim in 1981, and their inclusion in Phillips’ 20th Century & Contemporary Art Day Sale this June marks the first time that they have ever been offered publicly.
“Initially, when Diane and I started collecting art in the 1970s, it was about collecting beautiful objects, but over time, our focus shifted to objects that talk about who we are as a people—where we have been, where we are now and where we should be going,” Justice Page says. “Today’s collection shines a light on the beauty of African-American art and culture, while also shining a light on the horrors of slavery and the Jim Crow era. While it has been our good fortune to be the caretakers of ‘Starvation’ and ‘The Athlete’ for so many years—and they will be missed—we’ve had almost 30 years of enjoyment from them, and it’s time for someone else to have that opportunity.”
“Untitled (Starvation)” and “Untitled (The Athlete)” are two exceptional works of art depicting subjects that would become key to the vernacular of Basquiat’s woefully brief output: An anthropomorphic god figure with the artist’s famous crown of thorns motif and a monumental, yet distinctly fallible, athlete.
The formidable figure in “Starvation” shows his strength as he raises his arms in victory, warning or supplication. The crossed-out text “Samale,” which may be a reference to the fierce monkey-man god of African mythology, is juxtaposed here with Basquiat’s iconic crown of thorns.
Just as Basquiat eventually took his own place in the pantheon of cultural icons, the gladiator-like man in “The Athlete” shows a deep affinity with athletes that the artist celebrated, including Muhammad Ali, Joe Louis and Hank Aaron. The work is a vivid example of Basquiat’s understanding of the athlete as an epic figure fighting for the respect and recognition whose corollary is perpetual vulnerability: To racism, to objectification and to deeply entrenched stereotypes of masculinity.
Four years after executing “Starvation” and “The Athlete,” Basquiat emerged from New York’s underground art scene and exploded onto the cover of The New York Times Magazine. As the first artist of color to be compared to the likes of Picasso and Francis Bacon, the Times feature marked a seismic shift in a culture rife with racism. Basquiat’s impact reverberated beyond the confines of the New York art scene, reaching people around the world—including Alan Page’s daughter Georgi, 1,000 miles away in Minneapolis. The artist’s work made such a deep impression on the 15-year-old that her father and stepmother—who already owned works by contemporary artists like Andy Warhol, Jim Dine and Helen Frankenthaler—were convinced to seek out Basquiat’s work on their next trip to New York.
“In their 45 years together, Diane and Alan Page formed one of the most remarkable collections of contemporary art and African Americana in private hands, all while continuing to serve their community in Minneapolis in countless and unprecedented ways,” says Phillips Co-Head of Day Sale John McCord. “Given their keen eye for artists who helped to define 20th century culture and bring discussions of racial equity to the fore, it comes as no surprise that ‘Starvation’ and ‘The Athlete’ were such treasured pieces in their collection for over three decades.”
Beyond his keen eye for art as valuable as “The Athlete,” Justice Page was a legendary athlete in his own right. One of the most accomplished defensive players for the Minnesota Vikings, his experience fighting for his rights as a player representative during the NFLPA strike in the 1970s inspired him to go to law school and earn his Juris Doctor in 1978. After suing for his right to run for the Minnesota Supreme Court, he became the state’s first African American associate justice in 1992.
In the intervening years, he and Diane launched the Page Education Foundation, at which she served as the executive director. Since Diane’s passing in 2018, Alan and his family have remained passionately devoted to social causes.
He accepted the Medal of Freedom in 2018 and, in 2020, he helped launch a campaign to amend the Minnesota constitution with a proposed Page Amendment to make a quality public school education a basic right for all children. As a testament to his unending dedication to his community, The Justice Alan Page Elementary School is currently being built and is the second school to be named after Justice Page.
In addition to the two Basquiat works, Phillips’ 20th Century & Contemporary Art Day Sale includes highly coveted art by Amy Sherald, Vija Celmins, Andy Warhol, Alexander Calder, Matthew Wong, Amoako Boafo and other greats. All will be previewed in Southampton through May 31, ahead of the June 24 auction in New York City.
“We’re delighted to showcase highlights from our June sales of 20th Century & Contemporary Art in our Southampton outpost, bringing them to a collecting community that has shown unbridled enthusiasm for rare and important works of post-war and contemporary art,” says Worldwide Co-Head of 20th Century & Contemporary Art Robert Manley. “Amy Sherald’s ‘It made sense…mostly in her mind’ is among the highlights to be featured. Painted in 2011, the work was previously on loan to the National Museum of Women in the Arts in Washington, D.C., and we’re pleased to report that a portion of the proceeds will benefit the institution.”
Phillips Southampton is located at 1 Hampton Road, Southampton Village. Visit phillips.com or call 212-848-1750 for more information about the May auction preview in Southampton and the June auction in New York City.