A portrait by Jean-Michel Basquiat, painted on the door of the apartment where he was staying during a sojourn in Dallas in 1985, was recently acquired by the Dallas Museum of Art (DMA). Donated by the late Texan art collectors Samuel and Helga Feldman, “Sam F” (1985) is the first work by Basquiat to enter the museum’s collection. However, it won’t be the first time that this particular painting has appeared at the DMA; “Sam F” was one of 17 works in the museum’s exhibition of work by Basquiat in private local collections, Dallas Collects Jean-Michel Basquiat, which was held in 1993, just five years after the artist’s untimely death.
In 1985, Dallas-based art advisor Marcia May and her husband Alan invited Basquiat to attend the June opening of the DMA’s exhibition Primitivism in 20th Century Art: Affinity of the Tribal and the Modern, which had traveled from the Museum of Modern Art in New York. The 24-year-old New York-based painter and graffiti artist’s star was already on the rise; Basquiat had famously appeared on the February 10 cover of the New York Times Magazine that year and had his second solo show at Mary Boone Gallery in March. Basquiat accepted the invitation and stayed at the Mays’ residence for several weeks that summer. During his time there, he frequently visited with the Feldmans, an art collector couple who lived in the same apartment complex.
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A characteristically bold, layered oil painting by Basquiat, “Sam F” depicts a suit-wearing Samuel Feldman against an aqua backdrop. Feldman, whose face is abstractly rendered with swathes of orange and gray, is depicted sitting in his wheelchair, the wheels rimmed with lime green and brick red swoops of paint. Floating around the collector are a duck’s head, several prose-poems or lists, and the name “SAM” scrawled multiple times, once accompanied by a copyright sign — a play on Basquiat’s iconic graffiti tag, SAMO©. Basquiat painted the portrait directly onto the Mays’ door. It was neither the first nor the last time that the artist, who had a penchant for salvaged materials, would elect to use a door as a canvas.
In a statement, Dr. Anna Katherine Brodbeck, the museum’s senior curator of contemporary art, called the work a “landmark gift.” “This painting fills a significant gap in our collection and allows us the opportunity to share with audiences the groundbreaking contributions of Black and Latinx artists to the art world in the 1980s,” Dr. Brodbeck continued.
Agustín Arteaga, the DMA’s director, added that the work has a special connection with the city and the museum. “[We] are thrilled to share it with our community almost as quickly as we received it,” Arteaga added.
“Sam F” will be on view on the DMA’s main concourse on July 4 until February 2022.