A gift from Jean-Michel Basquiat to bartender Randy Gun. Photo by Adam Reich. Courtesy of JGC Fine Art.
Art, Music & Culture of the ’70s and ’80s Collide
/PRNewswire/ — JGC Fine Art, New York is pleased to present an online exhibition, A Gift from Basquiat: Harry’s ABC of Mixing Cocktails that illuminates a little-known friendship between groundbreaking artist Jean-Michel Basquiat (1960-1988), one of the most important and creative talents of the 20th century, and self-taught musician Randy Gun, a fixture of Manhattan’s downtown new music scene of the 1970s and 1980s.
The exhibition includes images and details of a personal gift from Basquiat to Gun: a special anniversary edition of the barman’s guide and recipe book, Harry’s ABC of Mixing Cocktails, 1986, by Harry MacElhone, late proprietor of the famous Harry’s New York Bar in Paris. The book features a dedication from Basquiat to Gun and six pages of never-before-seen drawings by the artist in graphite and colored pencil. *
“The book and its drawings are a unique and meaningful example of Basquiat’s personal expression and his remarkable ability to synthesize different worlds, in this case the significance of music, society, and contemporary events, while illuminating a personal relationship between the two men,” said Janis Gardner Cecil, Founder and President of JGCFA and the curator of the website. Cecil added, “Appreciation for Basquiat’s profound insight and extraordinary talent have rightly grown since his tragic death, and I hope this exhibition reveals a new facet of his brief but brilliant life.”
Basquiat’s gift of Harry’s ABC of Mixing Cocktails opens with a dedication to Gun: “TO RANDY / FOR THE BEST / BARTENDER IN N.Y. / JEAN-MICHEL BASQUIAT [signature] / 1986 / HARRY’S IS THE / BEST BAR IN / PARIS (MAYBE / WHOLE / THE FREE / WORLD”
Other works in the book include the drawings, Untitled (HOHNER), a reference to the German musical instrument company renowned for the accordions and harmonicas used by many blues and jazz musicians, and Untitled (EROICA), frequently understood to be a reference to Beethoven’s masterwork, Symphony No. 3, Op. 55, and to which at least three important paintings by the artist are related. As direct references to music, these works specifically connect to Gun as a musician and to their initial meetings at downtown music and nightclub venues. Another drawing, Untitled (GLASS NOSE), seems to refer to the Russian political policy, Glasnost, initiated by Mikhail Gorbachev in 1986. This work ties to a hatted figure eating a banana on page 90 that is compositionally linked to Basquiat’s painting of the same title, Glass Nose, 1987. Other drawings depict graphic symbols, the international sign for atomic energy, and a seeming reference to one of Basquiat’s favorite artist’s tools, the Xerox copy machine, in the work, Untitled (STOP PRINT / X / START PRINT).
Known to be a generous artist, Basquiat gave paintings and works on paper to many friends, colleagues and to people whom he admired, perhaps most famously gifting the double-portrait, Dos Cabezas, 1982, of himself and Andy Warhol to Warhol hours after their first formal meeting in October 1982.
Over years of seeing each other downtown, at a performance at The Kitchen, cool haunts like the Mudd Club, and through mutual friends like photographer Bobby Grossman, Basquiat and Gun developed a more personal rapport while Gun tended bar at the Great Jones Cafe across the street from the artist’s home and studio, rented from Andy Warhol, at 57 Great Jones Street. It was there that Gun spoke to Basquiat about his heroin addiction, urging him to seek help. As Gun shares in an extensive interview published on the exhibition website, Basquiat returned to the bar after traveling with his gift of Harry’s ABC of Mixing Cocktails, 1986, surprising him with the dedicated book. As Gun says, “This was a personal gift to me by Jean-Michel. It was precious to me and still is. It was just remarkable.”
The interview with Randy Gun on the site is conducted by art historian and critic, David Ebony, former Managing Editor of Art in America magazine. As one of the founders of the New York punk band, The Erasers, and a downtown friend and colleague of Gun, Ebony’s insight adds another dimension to Gun’s vivid recollections of Basquiat and of the era.
The online exhibition includes original photography by Grossman of Basquiat, Gun, and downtown New York personalities such as Glenn O’Brien. O’Brien’s public-access cable show, TV Party, is where Gun played in the show’s orchestra for a performance by Debbie Harry, co-founder of the celebrated group Blondie. Basquiat was a guest on TV Party and Grossman a resident photographer for the show. Grossman, a decades-long friend of Gun, shares recollections of their time as neighbors at The Chelsea Hotel in the late 1970s.
Descriptions of the individual works by Basquiat, a music biography of Randy Gun, and additional details about Harry’s New York Bar, Great Jones Cafe, Glenn O’Brien and TV Party are written by or with Cecil and featured on the site. Harry’s ABC of Mixing Cocktails was published by Souvenir Press Ltd., London, in 1986, as a revised edition of the book released in 1939.
JGC Fine Art LLC, New York, was founded by Janis Gardner Cecil in 2017. Cecil is an art advisor, curator and art historian with more than 25 years of experience in the international art market.
* All images can be found on the website.