Basquiat’s paintings were shown in France a few years ago, a visitor overheard a teenager remarking that the artwork seemed
to have come from “a very angry little boy”.
|Posters announcing the Basquiat exhibition in Paris.|
that sense of artistic fury or frenetic energy is put into context in a
stunning new exhibition that comprises more than 120 works displayed in the remarkable
setting of the Fondation Louis Vuitton in Paris - the museum and cultural
centre designed by the architect Frank Gehry and launched in 2014.
Foundation’s spacious galleries present the Caribbean-American artist in a new light, emphasizing Basquiat's status as a major figure in the history of art, 30 years after his death at
the age of 27.
Foundation spotlights an artist I personally consider to be among the most
important of the second half of the twentieth century,” said Bernard Arnault,
president of the Foundation, and CEO of global luxury-goods company LMVH, which
sponsors the museum.
a foreword to the exhibition, Arnault, an avid art collector, added that the
“complexity of Basquiat’s work is equalled only by the spontaneity” of the
feelings it arouses.
figures among the origins of my collection and I owe him a tremendous amount
for inspiring my passion for art in general, and for contemporary art in
particular,” wrote Arnault, whose collection has contributed to that of the
|A visitor views Basquiat's "Gold Griot".|
exhibition comprises an impressive range of huge paintings and drawings on
canvas, wood and other materials. They are shown in a thematic fashion that
takes viewers into Basquiat’s thoughts and feelings about issues such as
discrimination and inequality, and one can’t help being impressed by the
immense number of works he produced in his short life.
show runs in tandem with an exhibition on Austrian painter Egon Schiele, who
also died in his twenties - 70 years before Basquiat, in 1918. Both artists are
“signal figures in the art of their time, the early and late twentieth century
respectively,” says Suzanne Pagé, artistic director of the Louis Vuitton
their art is presented separately, in different parts of the museum, the
artists are linked by “their breath-taking, youth-driven work” which has made
them “icons” for new generations, according to Pagé.
“Jean-Michel Basquiat” exhibition certainly addresses his iconic stature: his
work is easily identifiable from his graphic style of painting, his use of vibrant
colours and the subjects he addressed. As viewers walk through the eight
galleries, over four flours of the museum, the works form a
searing biography of the artist.
in Brooklyn in 1960 to a mother of Puerto Rican descent and a father from Haiti,
Basquiat grew up with a love for art, as his mother took him to museums in New
York and enrolled him in art lessons.
childhood was marked by an accident in 1968 when, at the age of seven, he was
hit by a car as he played in the street. While recovering from a broken arm and
internal injuries, his mother gave him a copy of Gray's Anatomy, a book on
human anatomy with illustrations of body parts, skulls and skeletons.
|The exhibition includes a gallery of Basquiat's drawings.|
to biographers, this book would have a great influence on his work; indeed, a
theme in the current exhibition is Basquiat’s preoccupation with the inner
functions of the body and with dying.
a child, Basquiat also experienced his parents’ separation and his mother’s
mental illness, as the family moved between New York and Puerto Rico. He
dropped out of high school at age 17 and was homeless for a while, producing
postcards and other items to support himself. But his precocious talent soon
caught the eye of gallery owners, collectors and fellow artists including the
influential Andy Warhol.
a natural instinct for openness, linked to his twin Haitian and Puerto Rican
roots, Basquiat absorbed everything like a sponge, mixing the lessons of the
street with a repertoire of images, heroes, and symbols from a wide range of
cultures,” Pagé said in a text introducing the exhibition at the Louis Vuitton
sequence of his works at the show begins with the 1980 painting Untitled (Car Crash) and ends with Riding With Death - a striking painting
that depicts a figure on a horse-like skeleton and which Basquiat produced shortly before he died in 1988 of a heroin overdose.
Jean-Michel Basquiat's "Horn Players", 1983.
Acrylic and oilstick on three canvas panels
mounted on wood supports. The Broad Art
Foundation. Copyright Estate of Jean-Michel
Basquiat. Picture: D M Parker Studio, LA
between, visitors can view the works portraying boxers such as Sugar Ray
Robinson and Cassius Clay / Muhammad Ali, and see Basquiat's artistic and political
commentary on exploitation and the slave trade through paintings that include Price of Gasoline in the Third World and
mirrored himself in his figures of black boxers and jazz musicians, as well as
in victims of police brutality and everyday racism,” said Dieter Buchhart,
curator of the exhibition, in an interview published by Le Journal de la Fondation Louis Vuitton.
connected the Black Atlantic, African diaspora, slavery, colonialism,
suppression and exploitation with his time in New York in the 1980s, always
keeping his own circumstances in view as well as those of humanity in general.”
Basquiat, who was a forerunner of hip-hop culture, music and musicians were an
essential part of the diaspora experience, and he paid homage to jazz artists,
particularly Charlie Parker, with Horn
Players, Discography and other
works in his signature style of skulls, teeth, frantic figures, and text that
send cryptic messages.
collaborations with Warhol also form a significant part of the exhibition, with
huge mural-type paintings that they jointly produced. The painting Eiffel Tower illustrates their
respective styles as they playfully depict the most symbolic structure in the
French capital. It’s a fitting inclusion in this Paris-based retrospective. - SWAN
The Jean-Michel Basquiat Exhibition runs until Jan. 14, 2019, at the Fondation Louis Vuitton in Paris. Related events include conferences, literary readings, and a talk by renowned African American curator Thelma Golden, who recently received the J. Paul Getty Medal for contributions to the arts.
Follow SWAN on Twitter: @mckenzie_ale.