BASQUAIT - C'est Moi, C'est Toi - BOOM FOR REAL - Barbican
Boom for Real
21 Sep 2017—28 Jan 2018
Barbican Gallery, London.
The Barbican are hosting the first major UK exhibition of works by the massively influential American artist, Jean-Michel Basquiat, since his death in 1988.
I was lucky to be invited to the private view of this immersive and passionately curated exhibition of Basquiat's work who despite being one of the most collected (expensive) and most influential black American artists of the 20th century, has only now had his work shown on en masse in the UK.
For anyone who doesn't know, but is into art and probably should know, Basquiat blazed a live-fast-die-young trail through late 70s/80s New York, a time when the city was literally falling apart he rose from underground pseudo-street urchin tagging SoHo shopfronts with his inimitable beat haiku poetry, to quickly become a very rich and popular artist.
What's great about Boom For Real is that it not only recreates one of Basquiat's earliest exhibitions of his work at a crucial developmental stage - it also provides a comprehensive overview of Basquiat's career, including his own influences, writings and self-mythologising persona.
Basquiat produced around 3000 paintings (BOOM) one of which recently sold for $110m (FOR REAL) so the curatorial challenge, to get some of these pictures, most of them held in the US or mainland Europe, over to the UK - and to choose sufficiently representative works from across a relatively short period of albeit prolific work - is HUGE.
Luckily for us, like all artists, Basquiat did repeat himself, in so much as he displayed continued interests of similar imagery, tropes and methodologies - skulls and bodies; symbology and black excellence; collage, the strikeout, and dense blocks of text in broken syntax. One minute his work does that whole riot of colour thing (which seems to me, as a by-product of '85, very Eighties) then it switches to sharp, incisive monochrome - surely veiled commentary on race (of which he was very much aware and artistically provocative) but also the primary uses of such colour contrasts, a la Malcolm X.
The key thing I took from the exhibition is the inspiring legacy that Basquait, that most unpretentious of artists, left behind him. Everyone moving and shaking around the gallery space had their eyes wide open, buzzing on the vividity and depth of his painting's expressive power - Basquiat is regularly name-checked throughout hip-hop, made a huge second wave step in the birth of street art - perhaps the most democratic form of art that is accessible to everyone (outside of the galley system) as artist and aficionado) and showed what black artists can do given an equitable platform and recognition to their white peers in what was, and remains, a racist and pretty crude world - more power to Basquiat - which, ultimately, means more power to everyone.