DATE & TIME
Monday 27th November 2017
10:00 am – 11:00 am tour with a curator
London EC2Y 8DS
Basquiat: Boom for Real is the first large-scale exhibition in the UK of the work of American artist Jean-Michel Basquiat (1960-1988). One of the most significant painters of the 20th century, Basquiat came of age in the late 1970s in the post-punk underground art scene in downtown New York. By 1982, he had gained international recognition and was the youngest ever artist to participate in Documenta 7 in Kassel. His vibrant, raw imagery, abounding with fragments of bold capitalised text, offers insights into both his encyclopaedic interests and his experience as a young black artist with no formal training. Since his tragic death in 1988, Basquiat has had remarkably little exposure in the UK; not a single work of his is held in a public collection. Drawing from international museums and private collections, Basquiat: Boom for Real brings together an outstanding selection of more than 100 works, many never seen before in the UK, and opens at Barbican Art Gallery on 21 September 2017.
More than any other exhibition to date, Basquiat: Boom for Real focuses on the artist’s relationship to music, writing, performance, film and television, placing him within the wider cultural context of the time. Paintings, drawings, notebooks and objects are presented alongside rare film, photography, music and archival material, capturing the range and dynamism of Basquiat’s practice over the years.
Jean-Michel Basquiat (1960-1988) was raised in a middle-class home in Brooklyn. His mother was an American of Puerto Rican descent. She encouraged Basquiat’s interest in art, taking him to New York City’s great art museums. His parents eventually separated, and he and his sisters lived with their father in Puerto Rico from 1974 to 1976. His mother was diagnosed as mentally ill and eventually was institutionalized. Troubled by his early childhood, Basquiat dropped out of high school and left home at age 17. He lived on the streets, with friends, or in abandoned buildings and began a graffiti campaign with graffiti artists Al Diaz and Shannon Dawson. They created the persona SAMO© (said to represent “same old shit”) and painted anonymous messages—“(SAMO©) A PIN DROPS LIKE A PUNGENT ODOR…” and “SAMO©…JUST IN CASE…”—on walls around SoHo and the East Village and on the D train of the New York City subway system. In the late 1970s that work—together with the work of other graffitists—began to receive notice in the art world, and so did Basquiat. He emerged in the aboveground New York art scene at age 20, about the time that a resurgence of Expressionist painting was at its height, and participated in his first formal public exhibition in “The Times Square Show” (1980). From there his career skyrocketed, and, until his death in 1988, he was a celebrity, represented by major blue-chip galleries in New York and Germany.
Lacking any formal training, Basquiat created highly expressionistic work that mixed graffiti and signs with the gestural and intuitive approach of Abstract Expressionist painting. Although much of his work addressed his personal angst in highly stylized self-portraits, he also alluded to African American historical figures, including jazz musicians, sports personalities, and writers. He appropriated and freely mixed motifs from African, Caribbean, Aztec, and Hispanic cultures and mixed “high art” references with images from popular culture, especially cartoons.
In 1981 Basquiat was the subject of an article by art critic René Ricard in Artforum magazine. The young artist was befriended by the Pop artist Andy Warhol in 1983, and the two began to collaborate occasionally. In 1985 Basquiat appeared on the cover of the weekly New York Times Magazine as a representative of the contemporary art-marketing trend. Three years later, at age 27, he was found dead in his loft from an overdose of heroin.
The artist and director Julian Schnabel made Basquiat and his meteoric rise in the art world the subject of his first film, Basquiat (1996).