|Jean Michel Basquiat, one of America's most talented and most important artist's to date.|
For an artist with true talent to be promoted in ones lifetime is rare, to be elevated to god-like status even more unusual. Jean-Michel Basquiat was that one pure genius recognized in his own lifetime.
In case you missed it Gagosian Gallery had one of the most important retrospectives of the powerhouse icon painter, Jean Michel-Basquiat, ever to be shown in recent history. This young artist, cultivated by Andy Warhol, who died a the early age of 27 showed the world what we already know. That in America too often true talent and even revolutionary genius can succeed given the right spotlight. The sustainability factor is what is the true Icarus factor, however that often brings that same rising star down in a struggle with fame and fortune. Basquiat challenged the same system that had brought him such notariety. Despite the powerful graphic nature of his paintings, Basquiat was truly iconic in that his art was far more than pop art in the sense that it was highly critical of society's power systems and contradictions about the pursuit of wealth vs race and class struggles in America. His was a true thesis about the conflicts of poverty and suppression brought to the high society art world of Madison Avenue and Soho. Andy Warhol had taken him under his wing and promoted him to stellar heights with collaborative artworks and introducing him to the art cognoscenti . Andy Warhol sensed his talent, and whether for altrusitic reasons or selfish reasons or both - decided to mentor him to the highest level. Raw talent is nothing without and audience - and gallery owners Bruno Bischofberger and Larry Gagosian helped to promote the young genius, Basquiat, to a rare and exclusive inner club - one not usually open to artists willing to criticize the same canons that support them. Jean Michel Basquiat, although was only briefly on this planet, asked the questions an artist should ask - why do we do what we do, is it fair and is it just - and he did it in a extremely beautiful way. - Inson Wood
The Estate of Jean-Michel Basquiat/ADAGP, Paris, ARS, New York 2013, Gagosian Gallery
At a casual glance Basquiat’s paintings look as if they’d been made by a brilliant, autodidactic schizophrenic driven to download his inner demons, obsessions and fantastical ideas by whatever means possible. He worked rapidly with brushes, oil-stick markers, spray paint and other implements on small sheets of paper; roughly cobbled constructions of found boards and stretched fabric; an old wooden door; and large, professionally made canvases. You can imagine the creative persona Basquiat’s art conjures, muttering and chortling to himself while compulsively improvising his chartlike compositions of cartoon images, glyphic signs and enigmatic word lists.
An exuberant, comical spirit prevails. Made on a big, white painter’s drop cloth with sneaker prints on it, “Eyes and Eggs” affectionately portrays a black short-order cook in a white cap with the name “Joe” on his white shirt holding a frying pan containing a pair of fried eggs whose red yolks rhyme with his goggle eyes. Offbeat humor and something stranger frequently converge, as in “Onion Gum,” wherein a little man holding a long dangling snake in each hand stands on a giant blue head with scary, masklike features. Hand printed several times here and there on the surrounding yellow surface are the words “Onion gum makes your mouth taste like onions,” a puzzling reference to the prank candy product advertised in old comic books.
But there is a lot of rage too, which concentrates most conspicuously in the recurring, scary-funny figure of a skeletal black man with wild dreadlocks, hollow eyes, grimacing teeth and bony extremities. One of the most impressive instances is “Untitled (Two Heads on Gold),” a double portrait of this explosive character on a canvas more than 10 feet wide rendered in teal, gold, black and white. It calls to mind Francis Bacon’s so-called “screaming pope” paintings. As Bacon reacted to the horrors of war and its hypocritical perpetrators in Europe, Basquiat responded to the tragically absurd calamity of racism in America.
Another similarity is that both figures remain relatively immobilized, as if paralyzed by existential angst. Basquiat’s — a black Everyman and a self-portrait — is not an active revolutionary like a Black Panther but a man prevented from becoming all that he wants by pervasive, irrational prejudice and driven insane because of it. Racism makes people crazy. This dimension hooks up neatly with the frenetic outsiderlike style.
Contrary to the first impression of urban primitivism a more considered view finds that Basquiat was nothing if not sophisticated. He toyed with primitivist tropes rhythmically the way jazz musicians play with standards. He made that connection himself; the names of famous jazz players turn up in many of his works. A simulated Charlie Parker record over eight feet tall, clumsily cut from plywood, painted black and with the label drawn in thin, chalklike lines, is a funny, heartfelt homage to that great saxophonist.
For all its bristling fury Basquiat’s art remains engaging and likable. It is not overbearing, withholding or offensive but visually generous, materially sumptuous and entertaining. There is an eager-to-please vulnerability that gives it a bittersweet emotional complexity.
Naturally it is hard to look at Basquiat’s art without ruminating on his similarly complicated brief life. Raised in a middle-class family, he dropped out of high school, left home as a teenager and became anonymously famous for writing gnomic graffiti on downtown walls, like the word “Samo” — meaning “same old” — and “pay for soup, build a fort, set that on fire.”
He started painting around 1980 and suddenly achieved rock-star status at a time when the art market was booming as never before. Dealers and collectors showered him with more money than he knew what to do with, enabling him to indulge his ultimately fatal appetite for addictive drugs.
Five years before he died Basquiat described his plight with eerie prescience in “Obnoxious Liberals.” The left half of that picture illustrates the penultimate moment in the story of Samson: A black man shorn of his dreadlocks pushes out with muscular, manacled arms against classical white columns to either side. In the center a shouting man in a black top hat and priestly collar holds aloft a fist full of arrows — the critic, no doubt. To the right a squat figure in a big cowboy hat and polka-dot boxers with a face painted gold is probably a collector. But all three figures also can be said to personify aspects of the artist himself: his often irreconcilably conflicting desires for freedom, honor and material rewards.
In the end Basquiat was unable to escape or transcend the gilded trap of his own success. He didn’t have time to grow up. He died, the system lived on, and his art still feeds the beast. Last year one of his paintings sold at auction for $16.3 million. - Ken Johnson NY Times.
Basquiat’s first public exhibition was in the group "The Times Square Show" (with David Hammons, Jenny Holzer, Lee Quinones, Kenny Scharf and Kiki Smith among others), held in a vacant building at 41st Street and Seventh Avenue, New York. In late 1981, Basquiat joined the Annina Nosei gallery in SoHo; his first one-person exhibition was in 1982 at that gallery. By then, he was showing regularly alongside other Neo-expressionist artists including Julian Schnabel, David Salle,Francesco Clemente, and Enzo Cucchi. He was represented in Los Angeles Gagosian and throughout Europe by Bruno Bischofberger.
Major exhibitions include “Jean-Michel Basquiat: Paintings 1981–1984” at the Fruitmarket Gallery, Edinburgh (1984), which traveled to the Institute of Contemporary Arts, London, and Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen, Rotterdam, in 1985); theKestnergesellschaft, Hannover (1987, 1989). The first retrospective was the "Jean-Michel Basquiat" exhibition at the Whitney Museum of American Art from October 1992 to February 1993. It subsequently traveled to the Menil Collection, Houston; the Des Moines Art Center, Iowa; and the Montgomery Museum of Fine Arts, Alabama, from 1993 to 1994. The catalog for this exhibition, edited by Richard Marshall and including several essays of differing styles, was a groundbreaking piece of scholarship into Basquiat's work and still a major source. Another 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.