The work of Jean-Michel Basquiat never seems to stray far from the headlines on the arts and culture pages, most recently with the Orlando Museum of Art and their exhibition made up of almost entirely fake works.

However, the acquisition of a real artwork by Jean-Michel Basquiat has caused almost an equal outcry.

In September 2021, the New York-based jewellery brand Tiffany & Co unveiled their latest campaign featuring the astronomical star power of Beyoncé and Jay-Z accompanied by diamonds worth multi-millions. The real star power, however, lay in the Basquiat work featuring a distinctive shade of robin's-egg blue.

The ad campaign was one of the first launched by Tiffany after its acquisition by French luxury conglomerate LVMH. Directed by Emmanuel Adjei, the co-director of Beyoncé's 'Black is King', The 'About Love' campaign marks a shift towards a more contemporary image, one tied to the urban and inclusive spirit of New York City. The fact the Basquiat work features a colour that almost exactly matches the shade of Tiffany's famous blue boxes is certainly a nice touch.

The use of artwork to shift brand image comes as no surprise by a brand now owned by LVMH. Not only is LVMH owned by one of the world's biggest art collectors, Bernard Arnault, the conglomerate also boasts its own art foundation, la Fondation Louis Vuitton.

LVMH was primed to capitalise on the works of Basquiat after hosting an exhibition of his works in 2018.

LVMH is also certainly not the first to capitalised on the Basquiat brand, with his work featuring in collaborations with Coach, Yves Saint Laurent, Commes des Garçons, Uniqlo, Supreme, Dr Martens and Urban Decay.

However, Tiffany's use of Basquiat's 'Equals Pi' is perhaps the first to go so far as to use a Basquiat artwork as so obvious a prop, capitalising on the striking similarities between shades of blue highlighted in Basquiat 'Equals Pi' and the brand's trademark blue colour.

Alexandre Arnault, the current executive vice-president of product and community at Tiffany, highlighted the synergy in an interview with WWD, noting:

We know he loved New York, and that he loved luxury and he loved jewelry. My guess is that the [blue painting] is not by chance. The color is so specific that it has to be some kind of homage.

Although art can elicit all sorts of personal reactions, many felt the comparison between the neo-Expressionist artist and the luxury powerhouse was a step too far.

Stephen Torton, a former assistant of Basquiat released a statement on his Instagram page calling LVMH's use of Basquiat's work 'perverse':

Anne Dayton, who had bought 'Equals Pi' for $7,000 from the artist argued that Tiffany & Co was 'as far away from the scene as it could possibly be,' despite the brand's assertion of a rebellious urban spirit.

These criticisms of callous commerce did not seem to phase Tiffany, as they went on to release an advent calendar with the Basquiat work reproduced on the front. Yours for only $150,000.

Moreover, Tiffany's commitment to the nebulous overlap of the art world and luxury brand continues with their current festive campaign featuring the beloved artist Andy Warhol.

A collaboration the commerce-loving artist I am sure would have loved.

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