Tuesday, 16 January 2018



By Margaretta wa Gacheru (posted January 16, 2018)

Many eyes popped in disbelief when Jean-Michel Basquiat’s ‘Untitled’ skull painting broke art auction price records last year.
It sold for USD110.5 million at Sotheby’s art auction, making it the sixth most expensive artwork ever sold at auction at the time. It went to a Japanese billionaire Yusaku Maezawa who is making news now because he’s putting Basquiat’s 1982 work on display at the Brooklyn Museum later this month.
The painting is expected to attract large crowds, but not just because the late African-American artist of Caribbean descent has a significant fan-base. Nor will it be because people understand the emotive power of the piece or the artist’s explosive use of color, line and design.
It will partly be because Basquiat’s painting joined what The New York Times described as ‘the rarefied $100 million-plus club’.
Apparently only ten other artworks have broken that $100 million mark. That puts Basquiat in the same league with world class artists like Pablo Picasso and the British painter Francis Bacon.
The ‘Untitled’ skull painting is not the first work by Basquiat that Mr. Maezawa owns. The 41-year-old founder of Japan’s large online fashion mall, Zozotown bid and won the artist’s large Horned Devil at an art auction held the previous year at Christie’s. For that piece, he only paid $57.3 million.
But Mr. Maezawa, who is also founder of the Contemporary Art Foundation, doesn’t plan to simply keep his Basquits on walls back in his hometown of Chiba, Japan. He has told the media he intends to one day establish an art museum in Chiba. But first, he apparently feels he has a higher calling which is to expose the world to the artist’s works. Both were painted in 1982 using oil sticks and spray paint. But for more than 30 years, he’s said the works were ‘unseen’.
Back in 2016 when he obtained the Horned Devil, he was already intent on loaning (for a fee) that first Basquiat to institutions around the world. But having won the bid on the “Untitled’ Skull and clearly having generated even more of a buzz in the art world over it, Mr Maezawa chose to premier Basquiat’s Skull over his Devil in New York in this new year.
Why all this news may be of some interest to Kenyans is not necessarily because they appreciate the colorful artistry of this African-American painter who started his career as a self-taught graffiti painter.
Nor is it because they have seen art by the Kenyan painter Ehoodi Kichapi which bears some resemblance to Basquiat’s million dollar work. (In 2017 Kichapi had successful exhibitions at One Off Gallery and at The Attic.)
I am told that many Kenyans are more keen on making money than making art. Not many believe that making art can be a way of also making money. But Mr. Maezawa has illustrated how not only the artist but the owner of the art can make money from the creative process.
Sadly, Basquit died of a drug overdose at age 27 in 1988, so he is not around to enjoy the dollars that his art earned him. Nonetheless, the public can at least see the incredible potential the creative process has if only parents would encourage their children to express their imaginative powers freely.
In the past, Kenyans have been told that buying a work of art need not be only to hang on their walls or stand in their gardens or at their front doors. They have been encouraged to see the purchase of art as an ‘investment’. That is to look at a painting or a sculpture like a stock that can rise or fall in the art market which in Kenya is rapidly developing now that Nairobi has its own annual art auction launched several years ago by the Circle Art Gallery.
But in Mr Maezawa’s actions, one can see that he has not only bought Basquiat’s works because he loves the art. He is also speculating that the works will not just accrue in value. Public interest in them is also likely to rise such that art institutions will be happy to pay the Japanese billionaire for his loaning them Basquiat’s celebrated works.
So while Mr. Maezawa has told the world how happy he is to own ‘a masterpiece’, referring to his most recent procurement, he is also thrilled to be taking it around the world and making money in the process.

Not a bad deal if you’ve got the capital and the desire to rub shoulders with art connoisseurs all the world.

Wednesday, 10 January 2018


By Margaretta wa Gacheru (margaretta.gacheru@gmail.com)
Kenyans know Nollywood and Bollywood and even Riverwood. But none of these ‘woods’ can quite compare to the mother of all media film centres which is Hollywood.
Hollywood’s incomparable for its glitter, glamor and glow of media stardom which was highlighted this past weekend when the Hollywood Foreign Press Association held their annual awards night, the 75th Golden Globes.
The Golden Globes come a few weeks before the Academy awards, also known as the Oscars (to be held March 4th). And some critics take them to be of lesser importance than the Oscars.
But some of us see them as more insightful and deeply discerning than the Oscars. This is because the judges, while mostly based in Hollywood, are from different regions of the world, giving them (assumedly) a more global perspective on media and specifically, film.
But while the winners and losers of this year’s Golden Globe awards were much anticipated, especially as the names of the nominees were widely circulated well in advance, the big news of the night related to the main award recipient.
Oprah Winfrey won the prestigious Cecil B. DeMille Lifetime Achievement Award, which was a big deal in itself, especially as she is the first woman of color to receive that prize. But upon receiving it, Oprah gave such a powerfully compelling and charismatic acceptance speech that the instantaneous buzz became ‘Oprah for President’ in 2020.
Adulation of Oprah has been a phenomenon for many years and her fans have often suggested she run for the US President. She has always denied any interest whatsoever in becoming a politician. She was happy to remain a leading cultural icon who not only has her ‘OWN’ cable TV channel and popular ‘O’ magazine. She has a living history of being the top syndicated TV talk show star which earned her a single-name recognition that sticks with her to this day.
But the clamor for Oprah to run for public office got louder after Barack Obama became the first African-American president. She remained adamant against it until very recently when things changed dramatically.
(The change was described by Frances McDormand (who won Best Actress at this year’s Globes for her role in ‘Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri) as a ‘’tectonic shift in the Hollywood industry’s power structure.”
The Harvey Weinstein Sex Scandal is what really precipitated this shift. It roused women across America (and around the world) to widely endorse the ‘Me Too’ movement of women admitting publically that they too had been sexually assaulted in the past. But more often than not, they had kept silent about that abuse up until now.
Now that women celebrities including Lupita Nyong’o, Meryl Streep and many others, have spoken out and even named their abusers, multiple male ‘heads have rolled’.
Men who once seemed untouchable and highly esteemed have had to quit their jobs or be fired outright. Everyone from Weinstein, one of the biggest media moguls in the world, to movie stars like Dustin Hoffman to politicians like US Senator (and former TV comedian) Al Franken have been publically named, shamed and literally forced by overwhelming public pressure to leave their high social seats of power.
Their fall has been dramatic. And to illustrate women’s solidarity with all the ‘victims’ who had been abused in the past, practically all the women (and most men too) at last Sunday night’s Golden Globes wore black.
What’s more, the choice of award-winning films, actors and actresses also reflected the changes resulting from not only the ‘Me too’ movement but its follow-up campaign of “Time’s Up’.
The Time’s Up Now concept was initiated, again, by Hollywood celebrity women who want to ensure that fundamental changes take place in power structures. They want to make sure the public’s response of the Weinstein scandal is not short-lived.
This is where Oprah comes in. When she ended her acceptance speech by declaring a “new day [is] on the horizon,” that was it. The audience at the Globes went wild. They got on their feet as they applauded and the presidential buzz amped up.
And while there were numerous award winners at the Golden Globes that were men, such as Gary Oldman for his role as Winston Churchill in ‘The Darkest Hour’, the majority of winners were woman-related. That includes the TV series ‘The Handmaid’s Tale’ and Best Dramatic Motion Picture ‘Three Billboards.’ Plus actresses who won included Nicole Kidman, Allison Janney, Elizabeth Moss and Saoirse Ronan. And apart from Oprah, the one Black actor to win at the Globes was Sterling K. Brown for his role in ‘This is Us.’