Featuring over fifty works from public and private collections, the exhibition spans the American artist Jean-Michel Basquiat’s brief but meteoric career, which ended with his death at the age of twenty-seven (1960 - 1988).
Basquiat left his family home in Brooklyn at the age of fifteen and took to the streets. A voracious autodidact, he quickly became a denizen of the explosive and decadent New York underground scene—a noise musician who loved jazz, and a street poet who scrawled his sophisticated aphorisms in Magic Marker across the walls of downtown Manhattan, copyrighting them under the name SAMO. In 1981, he killed off this alter ego and began painting, first on salvaged materials then later on canvas, and making bricolage with materials scavenged from the urban environment. From the outset he worked compulsively. He sold his first painting in 1981, and by 1982, spurred by the Neo-Expressionist art boom, his work was in great demand. In 1985, he was featured on the cover of The New York Times Magazine in connection with an article on the newly exuberant international art market. It was unprecedented for an African-American artist, and for one so young. In that photograph, Basquiat is a vision of cool, sprawled in a chair in front of one of his bold paintings in an elegant three-piece suit and tie, with bunched dreadlocks and bare feet.
Combining the tools of graffiti (Magic Marker, spray enamel) with those of fine art (oil and acrylic paint, collage, and oil stick), his best paintings maintain a powerful tension between opposing aesthetic forces—expression and knowledge, control and spontaneity, savagery and wit, urbanity and primitivism—while providing acerbic commentary on the harsher realities of race, culture, and society.
Gagosian Gallery Website
Please click here for a Culturekiosque art exhibition review of Jean-Michel Basquiat at the Fondation Beyeler in Basel, Switzerland.