I am intrigued by the new Tiffany & Co. campaign featuring music icons, Sean (Jay-Z) Carter and his wife, Beyonce Knowles-Carter. In the promotional photo, Jay-Z appears to be staring off, neither contemplating his wife, her jewelry, nor the graffiti art next to him. Beyonce, in a statuesque pose, proudly wears the rare 30 million dollar necklace, purchased by Charles Tiffany, who founded Tiffany, in 1877.
Her look might result from being only the fourth to have worn the 128.54-carat yellow diamond necklace. Other artists who have worn the necklace include Audrey Hepburn during the Breakfast At Tiffany’s press tour in 1961, and Lady Gaga when she attended the 2019 Oscars. Socialite Mary Whitehouse debuted the necklace in 1957.
I am further intrigued that Alexandre Arnault, Tiffany’s executive vice president of product and communications, explained his choice of the Carters by saying, “Beyoncé and Jay Z are the epitome of the modern love story. Tiffany has always stood for love, strength and self-expression, and we couldn’t think of a more iconic couple to represent Tiffany’s values.”
Finally, I am enamored with the artist whose work appears in the ad beside them. At first glance, the piece appears to be scribbles and equations on the signature Tiffany-blue background. However, upon further reading and research, the artist emerges as Jean-Michel Basquiat, who I knew nothing about, nor did I know his work entitled, Equals Pi.
However it is a prior work, Defacement, that has resonated with people who have experienced police brutality. Transit police arrested Michael Stewart, an aspiring artist, for writing graffiti in a New York subway on September 15, 1983. They brought him to Bellevue Hospital, hogtied and in critical condition. After thirteen days in a coma, Stewart died on September 28.
Jean-Michel Basquiat, who had started out as a street artist writing graffiti under the name SAMO, said, “it could have been me.” The story moved him to paint Defacement on the wall of fellow artist Keith Haring‘s NoHo studio only days after Stewart’s death. Defacement, featured prominently during Black Lives Matter movements and protests, remains in the Haring family’s possession.
Basquiat, born December 1960, is said to have died of a heroin overdose in August 1988. He was just 28, and in his short lifetime, he dated Madonna and was close friends and a painting partner with Andy Warhol. Right, I said painting partner as Jean-Michel Basquiat was already well known before Warhol took up with him, and it was Warhol who sought out Basquiat. Finally, I am curious about who has benefitted from Basquiat’s work as the UK sale of his painting, Untitled, sold for $110.5 million this past May. It was the highest amount ever for an American artist at auction.
Trendsetters Jay-Z and Beyonce bring their controversy loving followers to this new Tiffany ad campaign. Some are calling the rare gem a blood diamond, which Tiffany vehemently disputes. Basquiat’s friends and fellow artists say he’d be against the commercialization of his work by Tiffany and the Carters. Others who knew him well say this kind of fame and campaign would be right up his alley, as he had always wanted to be famous.
Some have even hinted that it was his search for fame and gaining that fame too quickly that contributed to him overdosing. Basquiat only lived six years after finding success amongst Warhol and other artists of his day.
Beyonce and Jay-Z: Tiffany & Co.