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What does 'knowledge of the cone' mean? Basquiat's hidden messages explored

Mafalda Costa August 23, 2021
knowledge of the cone
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Singer/superstar Beyoncé and rapper Jay-Z appear in a Tiffany & Co. campaign launching globally on 2 September 2021 alongside a never-before-seen painting by Jean-Michel Basquiat. But what is the meaning behind the artist’s signature scribbles (here including “amorite”, “ten yen” and “dunce”) and what does “knowledge of the cone” mean?

Tiffany & Co. ad stars never-before-seen Basquiat art

Beyoncé and husband Jay-Z celebrated their love in a Tiffany & Co. campaign set to launch globally on 2 September 2021. Alongside the celebrity couple, the ad stars a never-before-seen painting by American neo-expressionist artist Jean-Michel Basquiat.

Entitled About Love, the fall 2021 ad stars Beyoncé modelling the Tiffany Yellow Diamond, making her only the fourth person ever to wear the priceless piece – following Mary Whitehouse, Audrey Hepburn and Lady Gaga.

According to People, Jay-Z shines with Jean Schlumberger’s Bird On A Rock brooch, reconstructed as a pair of one-of-a-kind cuff links.

Alongside the couple, viewers get a first peek at a never-before-seen painting by Jean-Michel Basquiat in the Tiffany signature robin egg blue.

Talking about Basquiat’s painting, Alexandre Arnault, Tiffany’s executive vice president of products and communications, told WWD: “We don’t have any literature that says he made the painting for Tiffany. But we know a little bit about Basquiat…

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

Twitter reacts to Basquiat’s never-before-seen Equals Pi

As is always the case when something big happens in the world, people have taken their opinions to Twitter.

While some have applauded the power couple for the stunning ad, others aren’t fond of a Basquiat painting being part of an ad campaign.

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What does “knowledge of the cone” mean?

Some sharp-eyed viewers have set their ideals aside and took a closer look at Basquiat’s 1982 painting, titled Equals Pi.

As it is common in the artist’s graffiti-inspired works, Equals Pi shows evidence of Basquiat’s fascination with symbols via a powerful combination of lively imagery – and a sometimes random-seeming spattering of text.

According to Culture Trip, both the text and images in Basquiat’s works carry a great deal of meaning.

Sometimes he made important statements about social injustice, at other times he simply commented on the banality of the modern world.

This time around, Basquiat’s painting has caught peoples’ eyes for the bold, written words and phrases “knowledge of the cone”, “Amorite”, “ten yen” and “dunce”. What’s the meaning behind them?

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Although the meaning behind “knowledge of the cone” could only truly be revealed by the late artist himself, “Amorite”, “ten yen” and “dunce” are easily clarified. At least in their usual, common meanings, that is.

According to Merriam-Webster, Amorite refers to “a member of one of various Semitic peoples living in Mesopotamia, Syria, and Palestine during the third and second millennia b.c.”

As for the ten Yen, it is a denomination of the Japanese Yen. According to Coin Collecting Wiki, 10-yen coins issued between 1951 and 1958 have serrated edges, while 10-yen coins issued from 1959 onward do not.

Finally, the word dunce refers to a person who is slow to learn or stupid, especially at school, according to Cambridge Dictionary.

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Mafalda Costa is a second year BA Journalism student originally from Portugal. Her main passions if life are music, arts and culture, while she's particularly knowledgable on cinema and anime.