In the summer of 1982, a young artist traveled from New York to Los Angeles. His name was Jean-Michel Basquiat. Over the course of several weeks, the 22-year-old rising star created 25 paintings using mixed media and substrates of cardboard, paperboard, and plywood.
Without the pressures of painting “on demand” for gallery owners and their collectors, Basquiat was free to experiment with new images and themes that he would later embrace in some of his masterpieces, while reimagining familiar motifs that had already begun to characterize his revolutionary style. The result was an extraordinary body of work whose originality, energy, and diversity—their sheer magnificence—are the hallmarks of his creative genius.
Another prominent, but much older, African-American man befriended Basquiat that summer in Venice. An Emmy and WGA award-winning giant of the television industry, Thaddeus Q. Mumford, Jr. had excelled as a writer and producer for such hit programs as The Cosby Show, Maude, Electric Company, Sesame Street, and M*A*S*H. The young rebel, long estranged from his authoritarian father, instantly bonded with “Dr. Thad” who provided a positive role model for coping with success in what, like art, was a white man’s world.
Basquiat needed money for partying and drugs. The two men struck a bargain. Basquiat would paint for Thad who would pay him in cash without any gallery commission. Thad was not an art aficionado, but friends persuaded him to buy the art because they believed that Basquiat would be famous someday.
Not wanting to alert Larry Gagosian that he was “painting out the back door” by using the canvas that he had furnished, Basquiat scrounged up some readily available cardboard, paperboard, and plywood. Working by night at his characteristic furious pace, he created 25 paintings of various sizes, colors, and styles. Thad paid him $5,000 in cash.
Thad deposited his cache of Basquiats in the storage locker in Los Angeles where he kept his television awards and baseball memorabilia. And there they remained—safe and sound—for three decades. Thad kept paying the monthly rental fees and never removed them.
When Thad became incapacitated and stopped paying for the storage unit in 2012, the facility auctioned off the 25 paintings that were then acquired by the current owners. This Basquiat Venice Collection is the largest number of his paintings in private hands. Basquiat painted them at the zenith of his artistic powers, and his 1982 works are the most coveted and have sold for record prices. An initial six of them are being offered for sale at this time.