Basquiat On View at the Brooklyn Museum

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Basquiat On View at the Brooklyn Museum
Jean-Michel Basquiat. Flexible, 1984. Acrylic and oil paintstick on wood. The Estate of Jean-Michel Basquiat.

NEW YORK.- Over 100 works by Jean-Michel Basquiat, whose meteoric career coincided with the emergence of the hip-hop movement and who contributed to the revival of painting in the United States before his untimely death, will be on view in the major exhibition Basquiat, March 11–June 5, 2005 at the Brooklyn Museum. A number of works in the exhibition have never been seen in the United States. Basquiat is organized by the Brooklyn Museum. The national tour of Basquiat is sponsored by JPMorgan Chase.

The most comprehensive re-evaluation of the prolific artist’s career since a 1992 retrospective at New York’s Whitney Museum, the exhibition will include more than seventy paintings and fifty works on paper presented on two floors. This exhibition will celebrate the extraordinary achievement embodied in Basquiat’s work—his skillful use of color, his aptitude at drawing, his unique and complex iconography, his integration of text into his canvases and his development of themes from the African Diaspora.

Born to a middle-class Brooklyn family of Haitian and Puerto Rican heritage, Jean-Michel Basquiat was active for just one decade, yet he is one of the best-known artists of his generation and enjoyed unprecedented international recognition. Basquiat died of a drug overdose in 1988 at the age of 27. His works continue to break auction records for art made during the 1980s. When still in his teens, Basquiat first gained recognition among New Yorkers for the cryptic graffiti poetry he sprayed on the walls of Lower Manhattan under the pseudonym SAMO. In 1981, however, when he was twenty years old, Basquiat burst upon the art scene under his own name with an original body of work that quickly developed toward a complex and highly diverse, mature style, marked by innovation, sophistication, skill, and a stirring emotional depth. By the age of 21, he had already enjoyed five important one-person exhibitions and been included in the prestigious Documenta 7 in Kassel, Germany.

A talented, self-taught artist, Basquiat’s skill set him apart from many of the artists of his generation. He drew constantly, producing hundreds of works, which he sometimes photocopied to incorporate into his paintings as collage elements. He admired other draftsmen, including Leonardo da Vinci, whose anatomical studies he quotes, and Cy Twombly, whose influence is seen in many of Basquiat’s earliest works. Among the finest examples of this aspect of Basquiat’s work is a series of 32 drawings currently referred to as the Daros Suite, and once belonging to the legendary collector and dealer Thomas Ammann. The portfolio will be seen in its entirety for the first time in the United States. Basquiat’s paintings are frequently inhabited by primitive-looking figures with large, mask-like heads and consequently have been considered Neo-Expressionist in style. Nevertheless, although he exhibited many of the qualities of such modernists as Picasso, Matisse, Kirchner, Dubuffet, Rauschenberg, and, his friend Andy Warhol, he had a unique style, one that synthesized many of the main tendencies of the 20th century art.

Basquiat’s art was also part of the cultural movement that began sweeping the country at the time: hip-hop. As a musician and performer, he was friendly with many figures on the downtown New York music scene and even performed in a feature film loosely based on his life entitled Downtown 81, directed by Edo Bertoglio. Indeed, a second film on his life, the posthumous Basquiat, directed by artist Julian Schnabel, achieved some critical success.

The co-curators for Basquiat include Marc Mayer, Basquiat Project Director, former Deputy Director for Art, Brooklyn Museum, and now Director of the Musée d’art contemporain de Montréal; Fred Hoffman, Ahmanson Curatorial Fellow at The Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles; Kellie Jones, Assistant Professor of the History of Art and African American Studies, Yale University; and Franklin Sirmans, an independent writer, editor, and curator based in New York. Additional generous support has been provided by Fernwood Art Foundation. The exhibition was also supported in part by the Brooklyn Museum’s Richard and Barbara Debs Exhibition Fund and the Museum’s Contemporary Art Council. The Federal Council on the Arts and the Humanities has granted an indemnity for this exhibition.

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