I hadn’t heard of Basquiat before this highly anticipated exhibition landed in the Barbican Art Gallery. In truth, it was because the photo of Basquiat with his Aaron helmet and the Adidas jumper beneath a checkered suit was plastered on the walls of Ace Hotel’s lobby; a sight I frequently saw and was intrigued by.
Now, before we continue, let me take you deeper. The Barbican have a Basquiat-inspired playlist on Spotify
. Why? Because we’re heading to the 1980s’ New York underground scene where Basquiat was producing his art and poetic street graffiti. Jean-Michel Basquiat was born in Brooklyn in 1960, his father was Haitian and his mother was Puerto Rican and so his interest in black cultural history was eclectic to say the least. His character ‘
SAMO©’ took Manhattan by storm after he left school aged 17. With no formal training, but a heck of a lot of passion for the scene, Basquiat experimented across media with poetry, performance, music and Xerox art, so that by 1984 he had formed a friendship and collaboration with Andy Warhol. After his early death in 1988, Glenn O’ Brien described Basquiat’s style as ‘
bebop cubist pop art cartoon gospel’ which is a reasonable snapshot because Basquiat wasn’t exempt from criticism or racial prejudice when he started gaining recognition.
The catchy 1981 exhibition title, ‘New York/New Wave’, was curated by Diego Cortez and featured over 100 rising and celebrated artists, musicians and writers, but Basquiat was granted a prominent position in the show and launched his career. It was in the years previous that Basquiat had teamed up with his friend Al Diaz to create ‘SAMO©’, a play on the ‘same old shit’. Their written statements shook the city with their surreal, witty and provocative words such as: ‘ANTI-ART!’ ‘SAMO© FOR THE SO CALLED AVANT-GARDE’ and ‘ANOTHER DAY…ANOTHER DIME…HYPER COOL…ANOTHER WAY 2 KILL SOME TIME’. Then, with colour photocopying having become available in the early 1970s, he worked with Jennifer Stein to mass produce his collaged postcards. Selling them outside of the MoMA resulted in a few runs away from museum guards, which is ironic considering he would later be displayed in that very museum.
26. Basquiat: Boom For Real Installation view Barbican Art Gallery 21 September 2017 – 28 January 2018 © Tristan Fewings / Getty Images Artwork: Jean-Michel Basquiat Ishtar, 1983 Collection Ludwig, Ludwig Forum für Internationale Kunst, Aachen. © The Estate of Jean-Michel Basquiat. Licensed by Artestar, New York. Photo: Carl Brunn
11. Basquiat: Boom For Real Installation view Barbican Art Gallery 21 September 2017 – 28 January 2018 © Tristan Fewings / Getty Images Artwork: Jean-Michel Basquiat, Untitled, 1982 Courtesy Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen, Rotterdam. © The Estate of Jean-Michel Basquiat. Licensed by Artestar, New York.
20. Basquiat: Boom For Real Installation view Barbican Art Gallery 21 September 2017 – 28 January 2018 © Tristan Fewings / Getty Images Photograph: Jean-Michel Basquiat dancing at the Mudd Club, 1979. © Nicholas Taylor
8. Basquiat: Boom For Real Installation view Barbican Art Gallery 21 September 2017 – 28 January 2018 © Tristan Fewings / Getty Images Artwork: Jean-Michel Basquiat, Hollywood Africans, 1983 Courtesy Whitney Museum of American Art, New York. © The Estate of Jean-Michel Basquiat/ Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York/ ADAGP, Paris. Licensed by Artestar, New York.
6. Basquiat: Boom For Real Installation view Barbican Art Gallery 21 September 2017 – 28 January 2018 © Tristan Fewings / Getty Images Artwork: Jean-Michel Basquiat, Jimmy Best, 1981 © The Estate of Jean-Michel Basquiat. Licensed by Artestar, New York.
5. Basquiat: Boom For Real Installation view Barbican Art Gallery 21 September 2017 – 28 January 2018 © Tristan Fewings / Getty Images Artworks: © The Estate of Jean-Michel Basquiat. Licensed by Artestar, New York.
The Barbican have crafted their exhibition over two floors; starting upstairs you learn about the beginnings of Basquiat before gliding into more bitesize chunks to learn about the scene, Downtown 81, Beat Bop, Warhol, and then self-portraits. The lower floor examines more of Basquiat’s influences such as Art History, Encyclopedias, his notebooks, the screen, and one of the very few, and intimate, interviews he agreed to. Basquiat soaked up everything he could get his hands on, his eyes to, and his ears against. Although Basquiat chose to delve into the canon of mainstream, this including western art such as Da Vinci, Picasso, Matisse, and Duchamp, he engrossed himself with books such as African Rock Art, and Flash of the Spirit: African and Afro-American Art and Philosophy. Through the use of gold paint, black skull-like faces, Basquiat makes comments on the impact of the tobacco and sugar slave trade in the development of western economy.
Keep an eye out for the Basquiat inspired graffiti on your way there…
There is a lot that you can immerse yourself in and many aspects that you can tune into in this exhibition. My personal favourites include what I termed the “
Basquiat Blue” which, amongst many other colours, is this powerful, strong, bright blue turquoise tone that calls for an audience. Additionally, I felt really inspired by Basquiat’s graffiti words (
reminding me a bit of East London’s exhibition which I wrote about last year
) and his initiative to create collages, mass-produce them, and sell them on the streets outside the Museum of Modern Art. It takes time, ideas, a little money and guts. Plus, the exhibitions situated Basquiat in the real world with its inclusion of his influences and his multi-platform life. If that wasn’t enough the Barbican has been running a series of events, talks, film screenings and more to complement the exhibition with a few left before it closes on the 28th
Also, pick up the free
Before booking, sign-up for Young Barbican and instead of a £12 concession ticket price, you can get in for £5.
Find out more and book in advance for this exhibition here
Just want a dabble and dip into Basquiat? Check out the events (11th, 18th and 25th) using the link above!
Don’t forget, once you’ve popped along, leave a comment telling us what you enjoyed! Or if you’re planning to go, what are you looking forward to discovering?