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Would Basquiat Want His Art on Dr. Martens?
The complex issue of collaborations with dead artists
Art Stuff 30 Jul 2021

The complex issue of collaborations with dead artists

Fine Art x Fashion has been a winning combination in recent years: Keith Haring sweatshirts, Warhol tees, and now Basquiat’s second collaboration with Dr. Martens.

Following their successful debut collaboration in July of 2020, the Basquiat Estate has worked with Dr. Martens to release two new designs on two iconic DM shoes. Jean-Michel Basquiat’s ‘Untitled (1982)’ and ‘Pez Dispenser’ are now available on the 1460 and 1461 shoe. The famous shoe brand has featured art on their shoes regularly, including the work of Keith Haring, JMW Turner, and Hieronymus Bosch. One of their most worrying collaborations was with Richard Dadd’s estate – an artist who was mentally suffered from paranoid schizophrenia and murdered his own father. I’m not sure how that kind of collaboration can be respectful.

When the artist is living, I’m always thrilled to see them teaming up with fashion houses: it’s a great opportunity for them and anything that get’s art out to the people in an accessible way is a big win in my eyes. However, when the artist is dead – not so much.

Official collaborations between deceased artists and other companies are always overseen by the artist’s estate, so they’re entirely legitimate. Legitimacy isn’t the issue – it’s the use of their name without their direct approval. It’s comparable to bootleg merchandise being created: ‘Banksy’ duvet sets, ‘Murakami’ earrings, the Mona Lisa on a skater skirt. Is this what the artist would actually have wanted?

In some cases, the answer is clearly yes: Warhol was both a huge egomaniac and an adoring fan of consumerism so I’m sure that knowing that you would be able to buy pencil cases with his work on in the year 2021 would have thrilled him. For other creators it’s not so obvious. Banksy, an outspoken critic of mass consumption and capitalism, is probably less happy that you can buy his designs on t-shirts at most tourist shops in the UK. I also doubt that Communist, Feminist Frida Kahlo would want her face (not even her art) on jewellery and tins across the globe.

Making art more accessible should be top of the agenda for cultural institutions, and one way of doing this is mixing art into everyday life. That might be having great designs on posters on trains, teaching art history in schools, or introducing new artists to the public via fashion. Does the good that these collaborations do, outweigh the potentially uncomfortable thought that the artist themselves might be rolling in their grave?

What do you think – is collaborating with dead artists tacky, or does it serve to introduce new audiences to art they love?

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