Jean-Michel Basquiat

Jean-Michel Basquiat
Jean-Michel Basquiat 1986 by William Coupon.jpg
Basquiat by William Coupon in 1986
Born (1960-12-22)December 22, 1960

Died August 12, 1988(1988-08-12) (aged 27)

New York City, U.S.
Movement Neo-expressionism

Jean-Michel Basquiat (French: [ʒɑ̃ miʃɛl baskja]; December 22, 1960 – August 12, 1988) was an American artist of Haitian and Puerto Rican descent. Basquiat first achieved fame as part of SAMO, a graffiti duo who wrote enigmatic epigrams in the cultural hotbed of the Lower East Side of Manhattan during the late 1970s, where rap, punk, and street art coalesced into early hip-hop music culture. By the early 1980s, his neo-expressionist paintings were being exhibited in galleries and museums internationally. At 21, Basquiat became the youngest artist to ever take part in documenta in Kassel. At 22, he was the youngest to exhibit at the Whitney Biennial in New York. The Whitney Museum of American Art held a retrospective of his art in 1992.

Basquiat's art focused on dichotomies such as wealth versus poverty, integration versus segregation, and inner versus outer experience. He appropriated poetry, drawing, and painting, and married text and image, abstraction, figuration, and historical information mixed with contemporary critique. Basquiat used social commentary in his paintings as a tool for introspection and for identifying with his experiences in the black community of his time, as well as attacks on power structures and systems of racism. Basquiat's visual poetics were acutely political and direct in their criticism of colonialism and support for class struggle.

Since his death at the age of 27 from a heroin overdose in 1988, his work has steadily increased in value. At a Sotheby's auction in May 2017, Untitled, a 1982 painting by Basquiat depicting a black skull with red and yellow rivulets, sold for $110.5 million, becoming one of the most expensive paintings ever purchased. It also set a new record high for an American artist at auction.

Biography [ edit ]

Early life: 1960–1977 [ edit ]

Jean-Michel Basquiat was born in Brooklyn, New York, on December 22, 1960, shortly after the death of his older brother, Max. He was the second of four children of Matilde Basquiat (née Andrades) (July 28, 1934 – November 17, 2008)[1] and Gérard Basquiat (1930 – July 7, 2013).[2][3] He had two younger sisters: Lisane, born in 1964, and Jeanine, born in 1967.[4][1] His father, Gérard Basquiat, was born in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, and his mother, Matilde Basquiat, who was of Puerto Rican descent, was born in Brooklyn, New York.[5] Matilde instilled a love for art in her young son by taking him to art museums in Manhattan and enrolling him as a junior member of the Brooklyn Museum of Art.[3][6] Basquiat was a precocious child who learned how to read and write by the age of four and was a gifted artist. His teachers, including artist José Machado, noticed his artistic abilities, and his mother encouraged her son's artistic talent. In 1967, Basquiat started attending Saint Ann's School, an arts-oriented exclusive private school.[7][8][9] There he met his friend Marc Prozzo; together they created a children's book, written by Basquiat at the age of seven, and illustrated by Prozzo.[5][10]

At the age of seven in 1968, Basquiat was hit by a car while playing in the street. His arm was broken and he suffered several internal injuries; he eventually underwent a splenectomy.[11] While he was recuperating from his injuries, his mother brought him a copy of Gray's Anatomy to keep him occupied.[12] This book would prove to be influential in his future artistic outlook. His parents separated that year and he and his sisters were raised by their father.[12][3] His mother had been committed to a mental institution when he was 10 and thereafter spent her life in and out of institutions.[13] By the age of 11, Basquiat was fully fluent in French, Spanish and English, and an avid reader of all three languages.[14] His family resided in Boerum Hill, Brooklyn, for five years, then moved to San Juan, Puerto Rico in 1974, where Basquiat studied at Saint John's School in Condado. After two years, they returned to New York City.[12]:39 Due to his mother's instability and family unrest, Basquiat ran away from home at 15.[3][12]:37 He slept on park benches in Washington Square Park, and was arrested then returned to the care of his father within a week.[15][16] Basquiat left Edward R. Murrow High School in the 10th grade and then attended City-As-School, an alternative high school in Manhattan, home to many artistic students who failed at conventional schooling.[17]

Street art: 1978–1980 [ edit ]

SAMO (for "same old") marked the witty sayings of a precocious and worldly teenage mind that, even at that early juncture, saw the world in shades of gray, fearlessly juxtaposing corporate commodity structures with the social milieu he wished to enter: the predominantly white art world.

—Franklin Sirmans, In the Cipher: Basquiat and Hip Hop Culture[18]

In May 1978, Basquiat and his schoolmate Al Diaz began spray painting graffiti on buildings in Lower Manhattan, working under the pseudonym SAMO (same old shit).[19][20] They inscribed poetic and satirical advertising slogans such as "SAMO© AS AN ALTERNATIVE TO GOD."[19] In June 1978, Basquiat was expelled from City-As-School for pieing the principal.[21] At the age of 17, his father kicked him out of the house after he decided to drop out of school.[22] Basquiat worked for the Unique Clothing Warehouse at 718 Broadway in NoHo while continuing to write graffiti at night.[23][24] On December 11, 1978, The Village Voice published an article about the SAMO graffiti.[19]

SAMO Xerox poster (1979)

In 1979, Basquiat appeared on the live public-access television show TV Party hosted by Glenn O'Brien, and the two started a friendship.[25] He made regular appearances on the show over the next few years.[25] In April 1979, Basquiat met Michael Holman at the Canal Zone Party and they formed the noise rock band Test Pattern, which was later renamed Gray.[26] Other members of Gray included Shannon Dawson, Nick Taylor, Wayne Clifford and Vincent Gallo. The band performed at nightclubs, such as Max's Kansas City, CBGB, Hurrah, and the Mudd Club.[26]

Around this time, Basquiat lived in the East Village with his friend Alexis Adler, a Barnard biology graduate.[27] He often copied diagrams of chemical compounds borrowed from Adler's science textbooks. She documented Basquiat's creative explorations as he transformed the floors, walls, doors and furniture into his artworks.[28] He also made postcards with his friend Jennifer Stein.[29] While selling postcards in SoHo, Basquiat spotted Andy Warhol at W.P.A. restaurant with art critic Henry Geldzahler.[12] He sold Warhol a postcard titled Stupid Games, Bad Ideas.[30]

In October 1979, at Arleen Schloss's open space called A's, Basquiat showed his SAMO montages using color Xerox copies of his works.[31] Schloss also allowed Basquiat to use the space to create his "MAN MADE" clothing, which were upcycled garments he painted on.[32][33] In November 1979, costume designer Patricia Field carried his clothing line in her upscale boutique on 8th street in the East Village. Field also displayed his sculptures in the store window.[34]

After Basquiat and Diaz ended their friendship, the SAMO project ended with the epitaph "SAMO IS DEAD," inscribed on the walls of SoHo buildings in early 1980.[35] When they separated, a mock wave started for SAMO. Later that year, Basquiat began filming Glenn O'Brien's independent film Downtown 81 (2000), originally titled New York Beat. The film featured some of Gray's recordings on its soundtrack.[36]

Gallery artist: 1980–1985 [ edit ]

During the early 1980s, Basquiat made his breakthrough as a solo artist. In June 1980, Basquiat participated in The Times Square Show, a multi-artist exhibition sponsored by Collaborative Projects Incorporated (Colab) and Fashion Moda.[37] He was noticed by various critics and curators, including Jeffrey Deitch, who wrote the first press mention of Basquiat in an article titled "Report from Times Square" in the September 1980 issue of Art in America.[38][39] In February 1981, Basquiat participated in the New York/New Wave exhibit, curated by Diego Cortez at New York's MoMA PS1.[40] Cortez organized Basquiat's first solo show with Emilio Mazzoli, an Italian gallerist, that opened in Modena, Italy on May 23, 1981.[41] In December 1981, Rene Ricard published "The Radiant Child" in Artforum magazine, the first extensive article on Basquiat.[42] During this period, Basquiat painted many pieces on objects he found in the streets, such as discarded doors.[43]

Basquiat sold his first painting, Cadillac Moon (1981), to singer Debbie Harry, frontwoman of the punk rock band Blondie, for $200.[44] They had filmed Downtown 81 together. Basquiat also appeared in the 1981 Blondie music video "Rapture," in a role originally intended for Grandmaster Flash, as a nightclub disc jockey.[45][46] At the time, Basquiat was living with his girlfriend, Suzanne Mallouk, who financially supported him as a waitress.[47] She later described his sexuality in Jennifer Clement's book, Widow Basquiat, as: "... not monochromatic. It did not rely on visual stimulation, such as a pretty girl. It was a very rich multichromatic sexuality. He was attracted to people for all different reasons. They could be boys, girls, thin, fat, pretty, ugly. It was, I think, driven by intelligence. He was attracted to intelligence more than anything and to pain."[48]

Art dealer Annina Nosei invited Basquiat to participate in her group show Public Address in 1981.[49] She provided him with materials and a space to work in the basement of her gallery.[21] In 1982, Nosei arranged for Basquiat to move into a loft which also served as a studio at 101 Crosby Street in SoHo.[50][51] Basquiat had his first American one-man show at the Annina Nosei Gallery in March 1982.[21] In March 1982, he painted in Modena for his second Italian exhibition.[52] By that summer, he had left the Annina Nosei Gallery and Bruno Bischofberger became his worldwide art dealer.[53] In June 1982, at 21 years old, Basquiat became the youngest artist to ever take part in documenta in Kassel, Germany, where his works were exhibited alongside Joseph Beuys, Anselm Kiefer, Gerhard Richter, Cy Twombly, and Andy Warhol.[54][22] Bischofberger gave Basquiat a one-man show in his Zurich gallery in September 1982.[55] He arranged for Basquiat to meet Warhol for lunch on October 4, 1982. Warhol recalled that Basquiat "went home and within two hours a painting was back, still wet, of him and me together."[56] The painting, Dos Cabezas (1982), ignited a friendship between them.[57] Basquiat was photographed by James Van Der Zee for an interview with Henry Geldzahler published in the January 1983 issue of Warhol's Interview magazine.[58]

In December 1982, Basquiat began working from the ground-floor display and studio space art dealer Larry Gagosian had built below his Venice, California home.[59] There, he commenced a series of paintings for a March 1983 show; his second at the Gagosian Gallery in West Hollywood.[60] Basquiat flew out his girlfriend, then-unknown singer Madonna, to accompany him.[61] Gagosian recalled:

Everything was going along fine. Jean-Michel was making paintings, I was selling them, and we were having a lot of fun. But then one day Jean-Michel said, "My girlfriend is coming to stay with me." I was a little concerned—one too many eggs can spoil an omelet, you know? So I said, "Well, what's she like?" And he said, "Her name is Madonna and she's going to be huge." I'll never forget that he said that. So Madonna came out and stayed for a few months and we all got along like one big, happy family.[62]

Basquiat lived from 1983 to 1988 at 57 Great Jones Street in Manhattan, where he died. A plaque commemorating his life was placed on July 13, 2016, by the Greenwich Village Society for Historic Preservation.

Basquiat took considerable interest in the work that artist Robert Rauschenberg was producing at Gemini G.E.L. in West Hollywood, visiting him on several occasions and finding inspiration in his accomplishments.[60] While in Los Angeles, Basquiat painted Hollywood Africans (1983), which portrays himself with graffiti artists Toxic and Rammellzee.[63] Basquiat also produced a hip-hop record featuring Rammellzee and rapper K-Rob. Billed as Rammellzee vs. K-Rob, the single contained two versions of the same track: "Beat Bop" on the A-side with vocals, with the B-side adding an instrumental version.[64] It was pressed in limited quantities on the one-off Tartown Record Company label. Basquiat created the cover art for the single, making it highly desirable among both record and art collectors.[65]

In March 1983, at 22 years old, Basquiat became the youngest artist to participate in the Whitney Biennial exhibition of contemporary art.[66][67] That summer, Basquiat invited Lee Jaffe, a former musician in Bob Marley's band, to join him on a trip throughout Asia and Europe.[68][69] While in Tokyo, he was photographed for Issey Miyake.[70][71] Upon his return to New York, Basquiat was deeply affected by the death of Michael Stewart, an aspiring black artist in the downtown club scene who was killed by transit police in September 1983. He painted Defacement(The Death of Michael Stewart) (1983) in response to the incident.[72]

By 1984, Basquiat was showing at the Mary Boone Gallery in SoHo.[73] Basquiat often painted in expensive Armani suits; and he would even appear in public in the same paint-splattered clothes.[74][75] On February 10, 1985, he appeared on the cover of The New York Times Magazine in a feature titled "New Art, New Money: The Marketing of an American Artist".[15]

A large number of photographs depict a collaboration between Warhol and Basquiat in 1984 and 1985.[76] For their joint painting Olympics (1984), Warhol made the five-ring Olympic symbol rendered in the original primary colors and Basquiat painted over it in his animated style. They made another homage to the 1984 Summer Olympics with Olympic Rings (1985).[77] Other collaborative paintings include Taxi, 45th/Broadway (1984–85) and Zenith (1985). Their joint exhibition, Paintings, at the Tony Shafrazi Gallery caused a rift in their friendship after it was panned by critics and Basquiat was referred to as Warhol's mascot.[56]

Despite his artistic success, his emotional instability continued to haunt him and he used drugs frequently. His cocaine use became so excessive that he blew a hole in his nasal septum.[21] A friend claimed Basquiat confessed that he was on heroin in late 1980.[21] Many of his peers speculated that his heroin use was a means of coping with the demands of his newfound fame, the exploitative nature of the art industry, and the pressures of being a black man in the white-dominated art world.[78]

Final years and death: 1986–1988 [ edit ]

In February 1986, Basquiat traveled to Atlanta, Georgia for an exhibit of his drawings at Fay Gold Gallery.[79] In August 1986, he flew to Ivory Coast for an exhibit organized by art dealer Bruno Bischofberger at the French Cultural Institute in Abidjan.[80] He was accompanied by his girlfriend Jennifer Goode.[81] She worked at Area nightclub, a frequent hangout spot for Basquiat. Goode unsuccessfully tried to get Basquiat into a methadone program.[82] In November 1986, at 25 years old, Basquiat became the youngest artist given an exhibit at Kestner-Gesellschaft in Hannover.[83]

Basquiat walked the runway for Rei Kawakubo at the Comme des Garçons Spring/Summer 1987 show in Paris.[84][85] In the last 18 months of his life, Basquiat became something of a recluse.[78] His continued drug use is thought to have been a way of coping after the death of Andy Warhol in February 1987.[86]

In January 1988, Basquiat traveled to Paris for his exhibit at the Yvon Lambert Gallery, and to Dusseldorf for an exhibit that same month at the Hans Mayer Gallery. In Paris, he befriended Ivorian artist Ouattara Watts. They made plans to travel together to Watts' birthplace, Korhogo, that summer.[87] Following an exhibition at Vrej Baghoomian's gallery in April 1988, Basquiat traveled to Maui in June 1988. When he returned, Keith Haring reported meeting with Basquiat, who was glad to tell him that he had finally kicked his drug dependency.[88]

Basquiat's grave at Green-Wood Cemetery, Brooklyn, New York

Despite attempts at sobriety, Basquiat died of a heroin overdose at his studio on Great Jones Street in Manhattan's NoHo neighborhood on August 12, 1988.[21] He had been found unresponsive in his bedroom by his girlfriend Kelly Inman.[12][89] He was taken to Cabrini Medical Center, where he was pronounced dead on arrival.[12] He was 27 years old.[29]

A private funeral was held at Frank E. Campbell Funeral Chapel on August 17, 1988.[90] The funeral was attended by immediate family and close friends, including artists Keith Haring and Francesco Clemente.[90] Jeffrey Deitch, who wrote the first press mention of Basquiat and became his friend, gave a eulogy.[38] Basquiat is buried at Brooklyn's Green-Wood Cemetery.[90]

A public memorial was held at Saint Peter's Church on November 3, 1988.[91] Among the speakers was Ingrid Sischy, who, as the editor of Artforum, got to know Basquiat well and commissioned a number of articles that introduced his work to the wider world.[92] His former girlfriend Suzanne Mallouk recited sections of A. R. Penck's "Poem for Basquiat" and his friend Fab 5 Freddy read a poem by Langston Hughes.[93] The 300 guests included musicians John Lurie and Arto Lindsay, Keith Haring, poet David Shapiro, writer Glenn O'Brien, and members of Basquiat's former band Gray.[91]

In memory of the late artist, Keith Haring created the painting APile of Crowns for Jean-Michel Basquiat.[94] In the obituary he wrote for Vogue, Haring stated: "He truly created a lifetime of works in ten years. Greedily, we wonder what else he might have created, what masterpieces we have been cheated out of by his death, but the fact is that he has created enough work to intrigue generations to come. Only now will people begin to understand the magnitude of his contribution".[95][96]

Artistry [ edit ]

Basquiat's canon revolves around single heroic figures: athletes, prophets, warriors, cops, musicians, kings and the artist himself. In these images the head is often a central focus, topped by crowns, hats, and halos. In this way the intellect is emphasized, lifted up to notice, privileged over the body and the physicality of these figures (i.e. black men) commonly represent in the world.

—Kellie Jones, Lost in Translation: Jean-Michel in the (Re)Mix[97]

According to Franklin Sirmans, Basquiat appropriated poetry, drawing, and painting, and married text and image, abstraction, figuration, and historical information mixed with contemporary critique.[18] Fred Hoffman hypothesizes that underlying Basquiat's self-identification as an artist was his "innate capacity to function as something like an oracle, distilling his perceptions of the outside world down to their essence and, in turn, projecting them outward through his creative acts."[98] Additionally, continuing his activities as a graffiti artist, Basquiat often incorporated words into his paintings. Before his career as a painter began, he produced punk-inspired postcards for sale on the street, and became known for the political–poetical graffiti under the name of SAMO.[30] He would often draw on random objects and surfaces, including other people's clothing.[27] The conjunction of various media is an integral element of Basquiat's art. His paintings are typically covered with text and codes of all kinds: words, letters, numerals, pictograms, logos, map symbols, diagrams and more.[99]

Basquiat's art focused on recurrent "suggestive dichotomies", such as wealth versus poverty, integration versus segregation, and inner versus outer experience.[98] A middle period from late 1982 to 1985 featured multi-panel paintings and individual canvases with exposed stretcher bars, the surface dense with writing, collage and imagery. The years 1984–85 were also the main period of the Basquiat–Warhol collaborations, even if, in general, they were not very well received by the critics.[100] A major reference source used by Basquiat throughout his career was the book Gray's Anatomy, which his mother had given him while he was in the hospital aged seven.[11] It remained influential in his depictions of the human anatomy, and in its mixture of image and text as seen in Flesh and Spirit (1982–83). Other major sources were Henry Dreyfuss' Symbol Sourcebook, Leonardo da Vinci published by Reynal & Company, and Burchard Brentjes' African Rock Art.[101]

Heroes and saints [ edit ]

A prominent theme in Basquiat's work is the portrayal of historically prominent black figures, who were identified by Basquiat as black heroes and saints. His early works often featured the iconographic depiction of crowns and halos to distinguish heroes and saints in his specially chosen pantheon. "Jean-Michel's crown has three peaks, for his three royal lineages: the poet, the musician, the great boxing champion. Jean measured his skill against all he deemed strong, without prejudice as to their taste or age," said his friend and artist Francesco Clemente.[102] Reviewing Basquiat's show at the Bilbao Guggenheim, Art Daily noted that "Basquiat's crown is a changeable symbol: at times a halo and at others a crown of thorns, emphasizing the martyrdom that often goes hand in hand with sainthood. For Basquiat, these heroes and saints are warriors, occasionally rendered triumphant with arms raised in victory."[103] Basquiat was particularly a fan of bebop and cited saxophonist Charlie Parker as a hero.[15] He frequently referenced Parker and other jazz musicians in paintings such as Charles the First (1982) and Horn Players (1983), and King Zulu (1986).[44]

Drawings [ edit ]

Basquiat drawing of the supportive art critic Rene Ricard, Untitled (Axe/Rene) (1984)

In his short career, Basquiat produced around 1500 drawings, as well as around 600 paintings and many sculpture and mixed media works.[104] Basquiat drew constantly, and often used objects around him as surfaces when paper was not immediately at hand.[105][106] Since childhood, Basquiat produced cartoon-inspired drawings when encouraged by his mother's interest in art, and drawing became a part of his expression as an artist.[107] Basquiat's drawings were produced in many different media, most commonly ink, pencil, felt-tip or marker, and oil-stick.[108] Basquiat sometimes used Xerox copies of fragments of his drawings to paste on to the canvas of larger paintings.[109]

The first public showing of Basquiat's paintings and drawings was in 1981 at the MoMA PS1 New York/New Wave exhibit. The article in Artforum magazine entitled "Radiant Child" was written by Rene Ricard after seeing the show brought Basquiat to the attention of the art world.[110] In 1984, Basquiat immortalized Ricard in two drawings, Untitled (Axe/Rene) and Rene Ricard,[111] representing the tension that existed between them.

A poet as well as an artist, words featured heavily in his drawings and paintings, with direct references to racism, slavery, the people and street scene of 1980s New York including other artists, and black historical figures, musicians and sports stars, as his notebooks and many important drawings demonstrate.[112][113] Often Basquiat's drawings were untitled, and as such to differentiate works a word written within the drawing is commonly in parentheses after Untitled, such as with Untitled (Axe/Rene). After Basquiat died, his estate was controlled by his father Gérard Basquiat, who also oversaw the committee which authenticated artworks, and operated from 1993 to 2012 to review over 1000 works, the majority of which were drawings.[114]

Heads [ edit ]

Heads and skulls are seen as significant focal points of many of Basquiat's most seminal works.[115] Heads in works like Untitled (Two Heads on Gold) (1982) and Philistines (1982) are reminiscent of African masks, which suggests a cultural reclamation.[115] The skulls allude to Haitian Vodou, which is filled with skull symbolism. The paintings Red Skull (1982) and Untitled (1982) can be seen as primary examples.[116] In reference to the potent image depicted in Untitled (Skull) (1981), Fred Hoffman writes that Basquiat was likely, "caught off guard, possibly even frightened, by the power and energy emanating from this unexpected image."[98] Further investigation by Hoffman in his book The Art of Jean-Michel Basquiat reveals a deeper interest in the artist's fascination with heads that proves an evolution in the artist's oeuvre from one of raw power to one of more refined cognizance.[117]

Heritage [ edit ]

Like a DJ, Basquiat adeptly reworked Neo-expressionism's clichéd language of gesture, freedom, and angst and redirected Pop art's strategy of appropriation to produce a body of work that at times celebrated black culture and history but also revealed its complexity and contradictions.

—Lydia Lee[18]

Basquiat's diverse cultural heritage was one of his many sources of inspiration. He often incorporated Spanish words into his artworks like Untitled (Pollo Frito) (1982) and Sabado por la Noche (1984). Basquiat's La Hara (1981), a menacing portrait of a white police officer, combines the Nuyorican slang term for police (la jara) and the Irish surname O'Hara.[118] The black-hatted figure that appears in his paintings The Guilt of Gold Teeth (1982) and Despues De Un Pun (1987) is believed to represent Baron Samedi, the chief of the Guédé family of spirits in Haitian Vodou.[119]

Basquiat has various works deriving from African-American history, namely Slave Auction (1982), Undiscovered Genius of the Mississippi Delta (1983), Untitled (History of the Black People) (1983), and Jim Crow (1986).[120] Another painting, Irony of Negro Policeman (1981), is intended to illustrate how he believes African-Americans have been controlled by a predominantly Caucasian society. Basquiat sought to portray that African-Americans have become complicit with the "institutionalized forms of whiteness and corrupt white regimes of power" years after the Jim Crow era had ended.[121] This concept has been reiterated in additional Basquiat works, including Created Equal (1984). However, Kellie Jones, in her essay "Lost in Translation: Jean-Michel in the (Re)Mix," posits that Basquiat's "mischievous, complex, and neologistic side, with regard to the fashioning of modernity and the influence and effluence of black culture" are often elided by critics and viewers, and thus "lost in translation."[97] Art historian Olivier Berggruen situates in Basquiat's anatomical screen prints, titled Anatomy, an assertion of vulnerability, one which "creates an aesthetic of the body as damaged, scarred, fragmented, incomplete, or torn apart, once the organic whole has disappeared. Paradoxically, it is the very act of creating these representations that conjures a positive corporeal valence between the artist and his sense of self or identity."[122]

Reception, exhibitions, and art market [ edit ]

Reception [ edit ]

Traditionally, the interpretation of Basquiat's works at the visual level comes from the subdued emotional tone of what they represent compared to what is actually depicted. For example, the figures in his paintings, as stated by Stephen Metcalf, "are shown frontally, with little or no depth of field, and nerves and organs are exposed, as in an anatomy textbook. Are these creatures dead and being clinically dissected, one wonders, or alive and in immense pain?"[51] In a similar vein, Jordana Moore Saggese states the action represented in the paintings of Basquiat have been referred to as a tribute to jazz indicating that, "Parker, Gillespie, and the other musicians of the bebop era infamously appropriated both the harmonic structures of jazz standards, using them as a structure for their own songs, and repeated similar note patterns across several improvisations."[123]

A second recurrent reference to Basquiat's aesthetics comes from the artist intention to share, in the words of Niru Ratnum, a "highly individualistic, expressive view of the world".[124] David Bowie, a collector of Basquiat's works, stated that "He seemed to digest the frenetic flow of passing image and experience, put them through some kind of internal reorganization and dress the canvas with this resultant network of chance."[125] Basquiat seems to invite us to, in the words of Luis Alberto Mejia Clavijo, "paint like a child, don't paint what is on the surface... Finally every energy you drop is marking a territory, is a traffic sign, is directing and feeding spirits. What seems like a mess for some of us in the Cartesian logic, it is maybe a clear spiritual route for some others."[126] Fred Hoffman stated that a painting from Basquiat typically "shows the artist's vitality and energy being continually challenged by life-draining organisms."[127] Reviews about his work have been written on the direct relation of painting and graffiti. Regarding the relation between painting and graffiti, Olivia Laing states: "Words jumped out at him, from the back of cereal boxes or subway ads, and he stayed alert to their subversive properties, their double and hidden meaning."[128]

In the words of the Marc Mayer essay "Basquiat in History", "Basquiat speaks articulately while dodging the full impact of clarity like a matador. We can read his pictures without strenuous effort—the words, the images, the colors and the construction—but we cannot quite fathom the point they belabor. Keeping us in this state of half-knowing, of mystery-within-familiarity, had been the core technique of his brand of communication since his adolescent days as the graffiti poet SAMO. To enjoy them, we are not meant to analyze the pictures too carefully. Quantifying the encyclopedic breadth of his research certainly results in an interesting inventory, but the sum cannot adequately explain his pictures, which requires an effort outside the purview of iconography ... he painted a calculated incoherence, calibrating the mystery of what such apparently meaning-laden pictures might ultimately mean."[129]

Exhibitions [ edit ]

Basquiat's first public exhibition in June 1980 was in the group effort The Times Square Show (with David Hammons, Jenny Holzer, Lee Quiñones, Kenny Scharf and Kiki Smith among others), held in a vacant building at 41st Street and Seventh Avenue in New York. In 1981, he had his first solo exhibition at Galleria d'Arte Emilio Mazzoli in Modena.[41] In late 1981, Basquiat joined the Annina Nosei Gallery in New York, where he had his first solo US exhibition from March 6 to April 1, 1982.[130] By then, he was showing regularly alongside other Neo-expressionist artists including Julian Schnabel, David Salle, Francesco Clemente and Enzo Cucchi. In 1982, he also had exhibits at the Gagosian Gallery in West Hollywood, Galerie Bruno Bischofberger in Zurich, and the Fun Gallery in New York.[131]

Major exhibitions of Basquiat's work have included Jean-Michel Basquiat: Paintings 1981–1984 at the Fruitmarket Gallery, Edinburgh in 1984, which traveled to the Institute of Contemporary Arts in London; Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen, Rotterdam in 1985. In 1985, University Art Museum, Berkeley hosted Basquiat's first US solo museum exhibit.[132] His artwork was showcased at Kestner-Gesellschaft, Hannover in 1987 and 1989. The first retrospective to be held of his work was the Jean-Michel Basquiat exhibition at the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York from October 1992 to February 1993; sponsored by AT&T, MTV, and Madonna.[133] It subsequently traveled to the Menil Collection in Texas; the Des Moines Art Center in Iowa; and the Montgomery Museum of Fine Arts in Alabama, from 1993 to 1994.[134] The catalog for this exhibition was edited by Richard Marshall and included several essays of different perspectives.[135]

The exhibition Basquiat was mounted by the Brooklyn Museum, New York, in 2005, and traveled to the Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles, and the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston.[136][137] From October 2006 to January 2007, the first Basquiat exhibition in Puerto Rico took place at the Museo de Arte de Puerto Rico (MAPR); produced by ArtPremium, Corinne Timsit and Eric Bonici.[138] Basquiat remains an important source of inspiration for a younger generation of contemporary artists all over the world such as Rita Ackermann and Kader Attia, as shown, for example, at the exhibition Street and Studio: From Basquiat to Séripop co-curated by Cathérine Hug and Thomas Mießgang and previously exhibited at Kunsthalle Wien, Austria, in 2010.[139]

Basquiat and the Bayou, a 2014 show presented by the Ogden Museum of Southern Art in New Orleans, focused on the artist's works with themes of the American South.[140] The Brooklyn Museum exhibited Basquiat: The Unknown Notebooks in 2015.[141] In 2017, Basquiat Before Basquiat: East 12th Street, 1979–1980 exhibited as Museum of Contemporary Art Denver, which displayed works made by Basquiat during the year he lived with his friend Alexis Adler.[28] Later that year, the Barbican Centre in London exhibited Basquiat: Boom for Real.[142] In 2019, the Brant Foundation in New York, hosted an extensive exhibit of Basquiat's works with free admission.[143] All 50,000 tickets were claimed for before the exhibition opened, so additional tickets were released.[144] In June 2019, the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum in New York presented Basquiat's "Defacement": The Untold Story.[145] Later that year, the National Gallery of Victoria in Melbourne opened the exhibit Keith Haring and Jean-Michel Basquiat: Crossing Lines.[146] The Museum of Fine Arts, Boston will exhibit Writing the Future: Basquiat and the Hip-Hop Generation from October 2020 to May 2021.[147] The Lotte Museum of Art will host the first major exhibition of Jean-Michel Basquiat in Seoul from October 2020 to February 2021.[148]

Criticism [ edit ]

In a review for The Telegraph, critic Hilton Kramer begins his first paragraph by stating that Basquiat had no idea what the word "quality" meant. The criticisms which follow relentlessly label Basquiat as a "talentless hustler" and a "street-smart but otherwise invincibly ignorant" arguing that art dealers of the time were "as ignorant about art as Basquiat himself." In saying that Basquiat's work never rose above "that lowly artistic station" of graffiti "even when his paintings were fetching enormous prices," Kramer argued that graffiti art "acquired a cult status in certain New York art circles." Kramer further opined that "As a result of the campaign waged by these art-world entrepreneurs on Basquiat's behalf—and their own, of course—there was never any doubt that the museums, the collectors and the media would fall into line" when talking about the marketing of Basquiat's name.[149]

According to Sirmans, Basquiat's visual poetics were acutely political and direct in their criticism of colonialism and support for class struggle.[18] As reviewed by Hoffman, Basquiat used social commentary in his paintings as a "springboard to deeper truths about the individual".[98] Art critic Bonnie Rosenberg compared Basquiat's work to the emergence of American Hip Hop during the same era. She also mentioned how Basquiat experienced a good taste of fame in his last years when he was a "critically embraced and popularly celebrated artistic phenomenon." Rosenberg remarked that some people focused on the "superficial exoticism of his work" missing the fact that it "held important connections to expressive precursors."[150] Shortly after his death, The New York Times indicated that Basquiat was "the most famous of only a small number of young black artists who have achieved national recognition."[78]

Art market [ edit ]

Notable private collectors of Basquiat's work have included David Bowie, Mera and Donald Rubell,[151] Peter Brant,[152] Lars Ulrich,[153] Steven A. Cohen,[151] Laurence Graff,[151] John McEnroe,[151] Madonna,[151] Debbie Harry, Leonardo DiCaprio,[154] Swizz Beatz,[155] Jay-Z,[156] and Johnny Depp.[157] Basquiat sold his first painting in 1981, and by 1982, spurred by the Neo-Expressionist art boom, his work was in great demand. Basquiat was on the cover of The New York Times Magazine in 1985, which was unprecedented for any young African-American artist.[158] Since Basquiat's death in 1988, the market for his work has developed steadily—in line with overall art market trends—with a dramatic peak in 2007 when, at the height of the art market boom, the global auction volume for his work was over $115 million. Brett Gorvy, deputy chairman of Christie's, is quoted describing Basquiat's market as "two-tiered. ... The most coveted material is rare, generally dating from the best period, 1981–83."[159]

Until 2002, the highest amount paid for an original work of Basquiat's was $3.3 million for Self-Portrait (1982), sold at Christie's in 1998.[160] In 2002, Basquiat's Profit I (1982) was sold at Christie's by drummer Lars Ulrich of the heavy metal band Metallica for $5.5 million.[161] The proceedings of the auction are documented in the 2004 film Metallica: Some Kind of Monster.

In June 2002, New York con-artist Alfredo Martinez was charged by the Federal Bureau of Investigation with attempting to deceive two art dealers by selling them $185,000 worth of fake Basquiat drawings.[162] The charges against Martinez, which landed him in Manhattan's Metropolitan Correction Center for 21 months, involved a scheme to sell drawings he copied from authentic artworks, accompanied by forged certificates of authenticity.[163] Martinez claimed he got away with selling fake Basquiat drawings for 18 years; he also forged works by Keith Haring.[164][165]

In 2007, Basquiat's painting Hannibal (1982) was seized by federal authorities as part of an embezzlement scheme by convicted Brazilian money launderer and former banker Edemar Cid Ferreira.[166] Ferreira had purchased the painting with illegally acquired funds while he controlled Banco Santos in Brazil.[166] It was shipped to a Manhattan warehouse, via the Netherlands, with a false shipping invoice stating it was worth $100.[167] The painting was later sold at Sotheby's for $13.1 million.[168]

Between 2007 and 2012, the price of Basquiat's work continued to steadily increase up to $16.3 million dollars.[169][170][171] The sale of Untitled (1981) for $20.1 million in 2012 elevated his market to a new stratosphere.[172] Soon other works in his oeuvre outpaced that record. Another Untitled (1981), depicting a fisherman, sold for $26.4 million in November 2012.[173] In May 2013, Dustheads (1982) sold for $48.8 million at Christie's.[174] In May 2016, Untitled (1982), depicting a devil, sold at Christie's for $57.3 million to Japanese businessman Yusaku Maezawa.[175] In May 2017, Maezawa purchased Basquiat's Untitled (1982), a powerful depiction of a black skull with red and yellow rivulets, at auction for a record-setting $110.5 million.[176] It is the most ever paid for an American artwork,[177] and the sixth most expensive artwork sold at an auction, surpassing Andy Warhol's Silver Car Crash (Double Disaster), which sold for $105 million in 2013.[178][179] Maezawa's two record breaking purchases of Basquiat artworks total nearly $170 million.

In May 2018, Flexible (1984) sold for $45.3 million, Basquiat's first post-1983 painting to surpass the $20 million mark.[180] In June 2020, Untitled (Head) (1982), sold for $15.2 million, a record for a Sotheby's online sale and a record for a Basquiat work on paper.[181] In July 2020, Loïc Gouzer's Fair Warning app announced that an untitled drawing on paper sold for $10.8 million, which is a record high for an in-app purchase.[182] Earlier that year, American businessman Ken Griffin purchased Boy and Dog in a Johnnypump (1982) for upwards of $100 million from art collector Peter Brant.[183][184]

Authentication committee [ edit ]

The authentication committee of the estate of Jean-Michel Basquiat was formed by the gallery that was assigned to handle the artist's estate and was dissolved in 2012.[185] Between 1994 and 2012, it reviewed over 2,000 works of art; the cost of the committee's opinion was $100.[185] The committee was headed by Gérard Basquiat. Members and advisers varied depending on who was available at the time when a piece was being authenticated, but they have included the curators and gallerists Diego Cortez, Jeffrey Deitch, John Cheim, Richard Marshall, Fred Hoffman, and Annina Nosei.[186]

In 2008, the authentication committee was sued by collector Gerard De Geer, who claimed the committee breached its contract by refusing to offer an opinion on the authenticity of the painting Fuego Flores (1983);[187] after the lawsuit was dismissed, the committee ruled the work genuine.[188] In early 2012, the committee announced that it would dissolve in September of that year and no longer consider applications.[189]

Legacy [ edit ]

Basquiat's legacy has influenced literature, film, music, art and fashion. In 2018, a public square in the 13th arrondissement of Paris was named Place Jean-Michel Basquiat in his memory.[190] For the 2020-21 NBA season, the Brooklyn Nets honored Basquiat with a basketball jersey inspired by his art.[191][192]

Fashion [ edit ]

In 2007, Basquiat was listed among GQ's 50 Most Stylish Men of the Past 50 Years.[193] Basquiat often painted in expensive Armani suits and he walked the runway for the Comme des Garçons Spring/Summer 1987 collection.[194] To commemorate Basquiat's runway appearance, Comme des Garçons featured his prints in the brand's Fall/Winter 2018 collection.[195] Valentino's Fall/Winter 2006 collection paid homage to Basquiat.[196] Sean John created a capsule collection for the 30th anniversary of Basquiat's death in 2018.[197] Apparel and accessories companies that have featured Basquiat's work include Uniqlo,[198] Urban Outfitters, Supreme,[199] Herschel Supply Co.,[200] Alice + Olivia,[201] Olympia Le-Tan,[202] DAEM,[203] and Coach New York.[204] Footwear companies such as Dr. Martens,[205] Reebok,[191] and Vivobarefoot have also collaborated with Basquiat's estate.[206]

Film [ edit ]

Basquiat starred in Downtown 81, a vérité movie written by Glenn O'Brien and shot by Edo Bertoglio in 1981, but not released until 2000.[207] In 1996, eight years after the artist's death, a biographical film titled Basquiat was released, directed by Julian Schnabel, with actor Jeffrey Wright starring as Basquiat. David Bowie played the part of Andy Warhol. Schnabel was interviewed during the film's script development as a personal acquaintance of Basquiat. Schnabel then purchased the rights to the project, believing that he could make a better film.[208]

In 2006, the Equality Forum featured Jean-Michel Basquiat during LGBT history month.[209] A 2009 documentary film, Jean-Michel Basquiat: The Radiant Child, directed by Tamra Davis, was first screened as part of the 2010 Sundance Film Festival and was shown on the PBS series Independent Lens in 2011.[108] Tamra Davis discussed her friendship with Basquiat in a Sotheby's video, "Basquiat: Through the Eyes of a Friend".[210] In 2017, Sara Driver directed a documentary film, Boom for Real: The Late Teenage Years of Jean-Michel Basquiat, which had its world premiere at the 2017 Toronto International Film Festival.[35] In 2018, PBS broadcast a 90-minute documentary about Basquiat as part of the American Masters series, entitled Basquiat: Rage to Riches.[46]

A graffito showing Jean-Michel Basquiat

Literature [ edit ]

In 1991, poet Kevin Young produced a book, To Repel Ghosts, a compendium of 117 poems relating to Basquiat's life, individual paintings, and social themes found in the artist's work. He published a "remix" of the book in 2005.[211] In 1993, a children's book was released titled Life Doesn't Frighten Me, which combines a poem written by Maya Angelou with art made by Basquiat.[212] In 2000, writer Jennifer Clement wrote the memoir Widow Basquiat: A Love Story, based on the narratives told to her by Basquiat's former girlfriend Suzanne Mallouk. The first American edition was released in 2014.[48] In 2005, poet M. K. Asante published the poem "SAMO", dedicated to Basquiat, in his book Beautiful. And Ugly Too. In 2016, the children's book Radiant Child: The Story of Young Artist Jean-Michel Basquiat, written and illustrated by Javaka Steptoe, was released in 2016.[213] The biography, told from the perspective of a young prodigy, won the Caldecott Medal in 2017.[214] In 2019, illustrator Paolo Parisi wrote the graphic novel Basquiat: A Graphic Novel, following Basquiat's journey from street-art legend SAMO to international art-scene darling, up until his death.[215]

Music [ edit ]

Shortly after Basquiat's death, guitarist Vernon Reid of New York City funk metal band Living Colour wrote a song called "Desperate People", released on their album Vivid. The song primarily addresses the drug scene of New York at that time. Vernon states that Basquiat's death inspired him to write the song after receiving a phone call from Greg Tate informing Vernon of Basquiat's death.[216]

On August 12, 2014, Revelation 13:18 released the single "Old School" featuring Jean-Michel Basquiat, along with the self-titled album Revelation 13:18 x Basquiat. The release date of "Old School" coincided with the anniversary of Basquiat's death. The single received attention after American rapper and producer Jay-Z dressed up as Basquiat for Halloween the same year as the release giving Revelation a nod.[217][218]

In April 2020, New York rock band the Strokes released their sixth studio album, The New Abnormal. The cover art featured Basquiat’s 1981 painting Bird on Money.


In 2017, Banksy created two works inspired by Basquiat on the walls of the Barbican. This came about before the opening of Basquiat's exhibition "Boom for Real".[219] The first of the two works depict Basquiat's painting Boy and Dog in a Johnnypump being searched by two police officers. Nina Koidl puts that the raised arms in the new work are a symbol of surrender, and is representative of the treatment of black artists (rather than of graffiti artists).[220] The work was also accompanied by the statement "Portrait of Basquiat being welcomed by the Metropolitan police - an (unofficial) collaboration with the new Basquiat show", a comment on treatment of minorities by the police.[221] The second work depicts a carousel with the carriages replaced with Crowns, a common motif throughout Basquiat's work.

References [ edit ]

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Further reading [ edit ]

  • Buchhart, Dieter, Glenn O'Brien, Jean-Louis Prat, Susanne Reichling. Jean-Michel Basquiat, Hatje Cantz, 2010. ISBN 978-3-7757-2593-4
  • Buchhart, Dieter, and Eleanor Nairne. Basquiat: Boom for Real. (Catalogue for 2017 Exhibition at the Barbican Centre.) London: Prestel Publishing, 2017. ISBN 9783791356365
  • Clement, Jennifer. Widow Basquiat: A Love Story, Broadway Books, 2014. ISBN 978-0553419917
  • Deitch J., D. Cortez, and Glen O'Brien. Jean-Michel Basquiat: 1981: the Studio of the Street, Charta, 2007. ISBN 978-88-8158-625-7
  • Fretz, Eric. Jean-Michel Basquiat: A Biography. Greenwood, 2010. ISBN 978-0-313-38056-3
  • Hoban, Phoebe. Basquiat: A Quick Killing in Art (2nd edn), Penguin Books, 2004. ISBN 9780143035121
  • Hoffman, Fred. Jean-Michel Basquiat Drawing: Work from the Schorr Family Collection, Rizzoli/Acquavella Galleries, 2014. ISBN 978-0-8478-4447-0
  • Hoffman, Fred. The Defining Years: Notes on Five Key Works, in Basquiat / Merrell Publishers / Brooklyn Museum, 2005, p. 13)
  • Hoffman, Fred. The Art of Jean-Michel Basquiat, Gallerie Enrico Navarra / 2017 ISBN 978-2911596537
  • Marenzi, Luca. Jean-Michel Basquiat. Charta, 1999. ISBN 978-88-8158-239-6
  • Marshall, Richard. Jean-Michel Basquiat, Abrams / Whitney Museum of American Art. Hardcover 1992, paperback 1995. (Catalog for 1992 Whitney retrospective, out of print).
  • Marshall, Richard. Jean-Michel Basquiat: In World Only. Cheim & Read, 2005. (out of print).
  • Mayer, Marc, Fred Hoffman, et al. Basquiat, Merrell Publishers / Brooklyn Museum, 2005.
  • Tate, Greg. Flyboy in the Buttermilk. New York: Simon & Schuster, 1992. ISBN 978-0-671-72965-3

External links [ edit ]

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