Jean-Michel Basquiat rose to fame in the late ‘70s and was just 27 years old when he died. He counted Andy Warhol and Keith Haring as friends and had an encyclopaedic knowledge of the world around him, which he put to use in his artwork.
This exhibition focuses on Basquait as an artist in the making, caught up in the birth of what we now call popular culture.
Featured and listing image: 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.
The exhibition is a show of two halves. As you enter you will be immersed into Basquiat’s world. A video of him in his studio greets you. Tour the rest of this floor and you’ll get closer to his life and how he became part of the New York art scene and counter culture. Little clues like Polaroids, letters and fliers and films help to piece together the picture of how this twenty-something took hold of the art world at such a young age.
Downstairs, you’ll find out more about his work. His portraits, paintings and drawings are more like pictograms – a series of graphic strokes or collaged images. You get the sense that his work was created in the moment, there’s a restless energy to the way he painted and drew, like he was responding to something bigger, that he had a need and a duty to get the words or the lines onto paper. There’s statements in there just like the poetic messages wrote as a teenage graffiti artist.
It’s amazing to think that this is the first retrospective (look back) at Basquiat in the UK. A key part of pulling ‘Basquiat Boom for Real’ together was researching the pieces on show in order to share diverse range of influences and ideas he drew on to create work. By visiting the exhibition you’ll find out more about how he used visual references to tackle big issues such as institutional racism.
Earlier this year a piece called ‘Untitled 1982’ by Basquiat sold for $110.5 million (£85 million). It’s the highest price ever paid for an American artist at auction. Pretty much all of his work is owed by private collectors – you don’t find his work hanging on gallery walls.
This is why this exhibition is so important. Perhaps it will be the change needed to position Basquiat and the ideas his work represented in art history for real.