The Basquiat legend is in the spotlight here and here

The work of Jean-Michel Basquiat, who came to public attention as part of the New York pop-art scene in the 1980s, remains as relevant today as ever, as pioneering and visionary as it was then. His paintings highlight African heritage, societal issues and pervasive racism. As an eccentric outsider and exploited superstar of his time, Jean-Michel Basquiat is one of the most significant figures in contemporary art. “He was a precocious genius who made work for a world that didn’t necessarily understand him,” says Franklin Sirmans, director of the Perez Museum in Miami. For he also had to grapple with the complex art world of his time, in which he was one of the few black artists to have achieved such success. 

Born to a Haitian-American father and a Puerto-Rican mother, Jean-Michel Basquiat (1960-1988) was a daring young man who ran away from home at the age of 17, first working as a graffiti artist and sometimes living on the streets. During his brief but prolific career, arriving on the scene as a fully formed artist without ever attending art school, he had an innate understanding of colour and composition. “My mother, who loved to draw, gave me all the basics by taking me to visit the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York and the Brooklyn Museum“, recounted the artist.

An irreverent character, both personally and artistically, he had an enormous desire to be recognised, admiring the stars and frequenting the most exclusive parties and cocktail parties in New York. By befriending Andy Warhol, still at the age of 17, the two developed a shared admiration and influence, as recounted in the Basquiat × Warhol, exposition à quatre mains at the Fondation Louis Vuitton in Paris. “Jean-Michel made me paint differently, and that’s a good thing” Warhol wrote in his diary in 1984. “Andy started most of the paintings. He’d put in something very recognisable, a brand logo, and somehow I’d disfigure it. Then I’d try to get him to come back, I wanted him to paint again” says Jean-Michel Basquiat. 

Today, thirty-five years after his untimely death, Basquiat is the most sought-after black artist in history, having gone from the streets to worldwide success, created a highly personal style and left behind an enormous body of work, now selling for tens of millions of dollars. For while he sold his first canvas for $200 in 1981, his vibrant skull painting is the sixth highest-selling auction in the world at $110.5 million in 2017.

His art, which includes hundreds of paintings, drawings and interventions on objects, is punctuated by urban elements and charged with repeated symbols, such as skulls and crowns, which historians have attributed multiple meanings to and which have become part of popular culture, as can be seen through collaborations with street wear brands such as Reebok or Converse, or when his name is mentioned in texts by contemporary artists such as Jay-Z or Kanye West.

To commemorate the 35th anniversary of the artist’s sudden and much-lamented death, no fewer than seven exhibitions and two permanent spaces around the world have been organised over the last year and a half to honour the Basquiat legend, whose fame has grown astronomically over the years.

These events include the exhibition Jean-Michel Basquiat: King Pleasure, presented in New York and Los Angeles, which features over two hundred rare and previously unseen items, a host of personal objects (birth certificate, school reports, bicycle, sketchbooks, notes, Super-8 videos of his childhood, a fridge covered in graffiti) and reconstructions of the artist’s family home and studio. Organised in an unprecedented way by his sisters Lisane Basquiat and Jeanine Heriveaux, directors and curators of the project, this exhibition shows the family’s point of view as it has never been told before, with an insider’s look at the artist’s day-to-day existence, also accused of turning Basquiat’s legacy into merchandise as a lucrative source of income: hoodies, T-shirts, puzzles, skateboards, cups, magnets, etc.

Atelier Jolie in New York is the space where Jean-Michel Basquiat lived and worked from 1983 to 1988, which he rented from pop art pope Andy Warhol, and which the famous American actress and director Angelina Jolie is going to revive, in keeping with her interest in the arts, by becoming the lucky tenant of one of Manhattan’s most legendary buildings, at a price of 60,000 dollars a month. Located at 57 Great Jones Street, the three-storey, 613 square metre building will be home to fashion designers from all over the world, who will be able to work and exhibit their creations. Respectful of the spirit of the place, Angelina Jolie has made it clear that she will not touch the street art or the tags that currently cover its façade, in homage to this pioneer of the New York underground movement who dotted the neighbourhoods with numerous graffiti signed SAMO (“Same Old Shit“), nor the commemorative plaque affixed to the façade of the building, which indicates that Basquiat died here of an overdose in 1988 at the age of 27 and where the legend began.

Exhibition in Vienna (9/9/22-8/1/23):

Exhibition in Montreal (15/10/22-19/02/23):

Exhibition in Paris (6/4/23-30/7/23):

Exhibition in Basel (11/6/23-27/8/23):

Exhibition in Paris (5/4/23-28/8/23):

Exhibition in New York (1/6-30/9/22) and in Los Angeles until 15/10/23:

Permanent exhibition in Barcelona:

New space:

Listen Like Basquiat: Nightlife Spotify playlist to accompany the King Pleasure exhibition:

Text by Christine Cibert.

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