Barbican | Ends 28th January 2018 | £16.00
Basquiat has intrigued the art world ever since he rose to prominence from the streets of New York under the attention of Andy Warhol in the 1980s. He found himself at the epicentre of the Lower Manhattan art culture in the 1970s, which provided plenty of opportunity for the artist to experiment. His first interactions as a social commentator were inscribed onto the walls of buildings, trains, subways under the guise SAMO, his graffiti tag.
These tags began appearing around SoHo galleries featuring surreal comments attacking the gallery circuit that he would later become a part of.. As Basquiat transitioned into the gallery scene his style changed featuring more figurative form, whilst retaining expressions of text on canvas.
His paintings, featuring naiive imagery & societal scrawlings, captured the expressionistic grime of the city streets of the time. Parts of New York were crumbling with buildings burnt out and abandoned & amongst all of this was a thriving art scene. Basquiat’s positioned himself centrally to become a leading figure in the scene taking every opportunity to create & gain greater exposure. A musician, in a Band, ‘Gray’, as well as regular sets as a DJ, a poet & a performer.
This frantic existence lent itself to the artist’s practice as Basquiat’s was known to work quickly, in a frenzy often completing self-portraits in under 2 hours. Forcefully applying oilstick, acrylic & spraypaint, scribing, scratching strong statements, whilst using bold palettes. He approached the canvas with a rebellious energy intent on making cultural statements often steeped in race, inequality and colonialism.
The Barbican show presents Basquiat as the multidimensional artist he was; a painter, poet, performer, musician and activist. As such this far-reaching exhibition features music, films, books, blown-up photographs, paintings and many props used to emerse the viewer into the World of Basquiat. In fact it is so jam-packed with artistic content that it is difficult to focus on the actual artwork on display. So much competes for your attention leaving some viewers feeling rather disgruntled. This exhibition can be likened to a museum display loosely curated with license to veer off in different directions before arriving at a climactic end that reminds you of your reason for entry.
The show begins with a film of Basquiat dancing in his studio with each initial room thereafter featuring one or two major works and a selection of photos and sketches. Warhol, recognised as a mentor to Basquiat, is featured in a collaboration between the two under direction of their shared Swiss art dealer, Bruno Bischofberger. In another room an engaging selection of portraits are displayed.. despite a number remaining ‘Untitled’ it seems the artist’s trademark skulls have come to be presented as self-portraits since his death in 1988.
Researched & curated for 3 years, the show brings together more than 100 works from international museums and private collections. The Barbican follows the career from street to gallery, whilst including the artist's other artistic pursuits. This is certainly more of an all-encompassing document of the influential artist’s life than the retrospective it claims to be. Once the viewer accepts this reality they are free to explore different remnants of a life once lived with the paintings on display a bonus to your interaction. This leads to greater intimacy between artist & public.
This self-taught artist certainly influenced the world around him & now, it seems, is gaining greater recognition internationally. You cannot help, but think as you exit the show that what we are viewing as the entirety of a celebrated career could so easily have been just the beginning had he not have died at the young age of 27. It is astounding to note the time between Basquiat's first solo show & his death was only 6 years...
With no Basquiat paintings on display in a public space in the UK take your opportunity whilst it's there..
'Untitled', 1982 (Above) by Basquiat Sold for $110.5M/£82M at Sotheby's in May 2017
'Untitled', 1982 by Basquiat
'Self-Portrait', 1984 by Basquiat
'Untitled (Pablo Picasso)', 1984 by Basquiat
'Anti-Baseball Card Product', 1979 by Basquiat
'Untitled', 1981 by Basquiat
'Glen', 1984 by Basquiat
'A Panel of Experts', 1982 by Basquiat