Few museums in the U.S. own paintings by Jean-Michel Basquiat, one of the most famous artists of the 1980s. Now, the Dallas Museum of Art in Texas is one of them.
The Dallas Museum announced on Tuesday that it had acquired Basquiat’s 1985 painting Sam F, featuring a suit-jacketed man in a wheelchair. It is the first work by Basquiat to enter the institution’s holdings, and it is set to go on view in Dallas on July 4. Dallas-based collectors Samuel and Helga Feldman gave the painting to the museum as a gift.
Anna Katherine Brodbeck, senior curator of contemporary art at the Dallas Museum, said in a statement, “This painting fills a significant gap in our collection and allows us the opportunity to share with audiences the groundbreaking contributions of Black and Latinx artists to the art world in the 1980s.”
Basquiat painted the work while he was staying in the Texas city at the home of Marcia May and her husband Alan, who lived in the same apartment complex as the Feldmans. A door from the Mays’ home ended up acting as a canvas for Sam F. The painting represents Samuel and contains text written in verse, Basquiat’s SAMO tag, and what appears to be a black bird.
Agustín Arteaga, the Dallas Museum’s director, said in a statement, “As a treasured object, its history is a testament to the deep generosity and support of Dallas patrons for contemporary artists and the city’s arts institutions. As it is a beautiful new acquisition, we are thrilled to share it with our community almost as quickly as we received it.”
Though Basquiat created hundreds of paintings, the majority of them are held privately. Reporting on the subject for ARTnews in 2015, critic Bob Nickas found that many major U.S. museum still don’t own Basquiats because they “missed” the market for them during the ’80s, when the artist was still alive (he died in 1988, at age 27.) Then, his works were far cheaper than they are now. Nickas also wrote that the “unpleasant specters” of racism referred to in Basquiat’s paintings may have deterred many institutions from collecting his work.
Today, the Whitney Museum in New York and the Museum of Contemporary Art in Los Angeles are rare examples of important U.S. institutions that own Basquiat paintings. Despite Basquiat’s stature within art history, many major museums, including the Museum of Modern Art in New York, the Art Institute of Chicago, the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, and dozens more, do not own his paintings.
According to its website, the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York also acquired its first Basquiat painting this year. Titled Jughead (1987), the six-and-a-half-foot-long painting featuring a white man holding a dollar bill was gifted to the museum by Mireille and James Levy.
Update, 6/25/21, 2:40 p.m.: A previous version of this article stated the door used for Sam F belonged to the Feldmans. It belonged to Marcia and Alan May.