Beyoncé and Jay-Z’s decision to star in a new brand campaign for jeweller Tiffany & Co. continues to cause a stir after friends of the late US artist, Jean-Michel Basquiat, called out the brand for using his art in the campaign.
As reported on B&T a fortnight ago, the two mega stars star in the jeweller’s latest youth drive set against a previously unseen Basquiat piece called Equals Pi that the artist painted in 1982.
The piece had remained in a private collector’s hands until Tiffany & Co.’s owners, LVMH, recently purchased it for an undisclosed sum.
Bizarrely, LVMH claim that Basquiat – famous for his street graffiti style – used Tiffany’s famous turquoise blue in the art to show his appreciation of the brand.
Basquiat died of a heroin overdose in 1988 aged just 27.
The campaign is reportedly the work of LVMH’s communications director, the 29-year-old Alexandre Arnault, who also happens to be the son of the company’s billionaire owner and third richest person in the world, Bernard Arnault.
On the Basquiat painting and its similarity in colour to Tiffany’s famous emerald blue, Arnault said: “We know he loved New York, and that he loved luxury and he loved jewellery. My guess is that the painting is not by chance. The colour is so specific that it has to be some kind of homage.”
However, friends of the late artist have slammed the claims and said the use of the artwork for an ad campaign was inappropriate.
Alexis Adler, who lived with Basquiat in the late seventies, told The Daily Beast, “I’d seen the ad a couple days ago and I was horrified.
“The commercialisation and commodification of Jean and his art at this point – it’s really not what Jean was about,” she said.
Adler said that the anti-capitalist artist would have wanted his art to be placed in museums so that it was accessible to everyone.
“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?” she said.
Stephen Torton, who worked as Basquiat’s assistant, added that he doubted Tiffany would have even let the Black artist into one of its stores when he was alive.
“They wouldn’t have let Jean-Michel into a Tiffany’s if he wanted to use the bathroom, or, if he went to buy an engagement ring and pulled a wad of cash out of his pocket. We couldn’t even get a cab,” he told The Daily Beast.
Torton – who said he mixed the paint for the artwork – insisted that Basquiat did not intend the colour in the piece to resemble Tiffany’s signature blue, as LVMH has suggested.
He posted on Instagram: “The idea that this blue background, which I mixed and applied was in any way related to Tiffany Blue, is so absurd that at first I chose not to comment.
“But this very perverse appropriation of the artist’s inspiration is just too much.”
Fans of the artist also questioned why such a rare piece had suddenly resurfaced in an ad campaign.
“They been hiding a Basquiat for decades just to use it for a Tiffany’s ad?” one asked. Another commented: “Jay-Z cosplaying [pretending to be] as Basquiat is hilarious to me.” Another added: “He wanna be Basquiat so bad.”
“Basquiat wasn’t the type of person or artist to approve of his pieces being used in an ad from multiple billionaires (uncontextualized, at that),” scoffed another detractor on Twitter. “His art was all about pain and beauty in low places, so, it comes across as a tone deaf and flippant flex on his legacy.”
As if the Basquiat controversy wasn’t enough, Beyoncé was also slammed for wearing an extremely rare Tiffany diamond in the photo shoot said to be worth $42 million and labelled a ‘blood diamond’.
The diamond has only ever been worn by three other people in history – socialiate Mary Whitehouse in 1957, actress Audrey Hepburn in the 1961 film Breakfast At Tiffany’s, while Lady Gaga wore it to the Oscars in 2019.
The 128 rare yellow carat diamond was mined in the Beers’ Kimberly Mine in colonial South Africa way back in 1877 by black miners who worked in horrendous and often dangerous and deadly conditions, leading some to call it a ‘blood diamond’ – a gem mined in a warzone to finance violence or illegal activity.
Social media was quick to point out the jewel’s bleak history and questioned why Beyoncé chose to wear it in the campaign.
Responding to the criticism, a spokesperson for the singer said: “Beyoncé is aware of the criticism and is disappointed and angry that she wasn’t made aware of questions about its history.
“She thought that every final detail had been vetted, but now she realises that the diamond itself was overlooked.”
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