the first time in more than eight years, a vast collection of paintings by the
late artist Jean-Michel Basquiat (1960-1988) is on view at Gagosian Gallery in
Chelsea. The last time a show of this caliber was mounted for the artist was in
current exhibit is remarkable in scale, featuring more than fifty works, many
of them on loan from private collections.
results are breathtaking. Many of the paintings are massive in size—like
they’re trying very hard to contain Basquiat’s energy—and yet the repetition in
themes and language (many of his works include textual elements) bridge his
beginnings as a graffiti artist with his later embrace of color blocking, lush,
loose brushstrokes, and primitive, searching lines. Yet nothing here appears dated
or off point; even nearly three decades after their completion, all of the work
feels contemporary, almost timeless.
he was considered in his lifetime, Basquiat remains an original, using
combinations of painting and drawing in oil stick and a mix of visual and
written language that together create a kind of poetry not before seen in the
1980s, but co-opted today by many.
himself recognized Basquiat’s genius, and the two shared an exhibit of
collaborative work in 1985 at Tony Shafrazi Gallery, then in SoHo, and the
first time I’d seen Basquiat’s work in person. The card for the show was a
photo of both artists in Everlast boxing attire, like they were about to go
head-to-head in the ring.
the first minute I laid my eyes on the work, I felt Basquiat’s larger-than-life
ambition. Little did I know that he was also a firecracker destined to burn
fast and bright enough to self-extinguish just three years later. And
though I was a know-nothing teenager at the time, I was also a painter and I
followed closely the goings-on in the New York art world.
That same year,
shortly after Basquiat’s work was exhibited in the Whitney Biennial—as official
an art world coming of age as one gets—he appeared at my door via the cover of
the New York Times Magazine, looking as elite as one could
in a three-piece suit and bare feet. I was smitten.
I thought, that was fast. In less than a decade he’d gone from living on the
streets and writing his SAMO (SAMe Old shit) graffiti, to becoming an international art
star. It was all the legitimacy I needed to run off to Manhattan, dripping
turpentine in my wake.
|In Italian, 1983|
a painter was suddenly a formidable job, and the art market was on fire with
neo-expressionists like Eric Fischl, Julian Schnabel, and David Salle selling out
month into the semester, however, the stock market crashed. Warhol had died earlier in the year while Basquiat’s existing heroine addiction worsened, leaving the artist isolated and severely depressed.
By 1988, the art boom was
instantly over, and Basquiat—by that point emotionally sick and alienated from
his meteoric rise in popularity and physically sick from his excessive drug
use—was dead at 27.
|La Hara, 1981|
FEBRUARY 7 – APRIL 6, 2013
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New York, NY 10011
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Photos courtesy of the Gagosian Gallery