Arts + Culture
Jean-Michel Basquiat. ®Edo Bertoglio, courtesy of Maripol Artwork. ©The Estate of Jean-Michel Basquiat. Licensed by Artestar, New York.

This Art Exhibit Gives Jean-Michel Basquiat His Due Credit As an Artistic Genius

"Boom For Real" at London's Barbican Art Gallery is the first substantial overview of Basquiat's career.

Basquiat dancing to Duke Ellington. Basquiat reading from the book of Genesis. Basquiat starring in a movie. Basquiat cozied up with Andy Warhol.

These and more Basquiats are on show at "Boom For Real" at the Barbican Art Gallery in London, the first substantial survey of works by Jean-Michel Basquiat, whose 1982 painting, "Untitled," became the most expensive work by an American painter at auction when it sold for £100 million at Sotheby's in May last year. The work is the subject of its own solo exhibition at the Brooklyn Museum until March 2018, while "Boom For Real" will transfer from England to Schirn Kunsthalle gallery in Germany, where it will be on shown from February up until May.

"Boom For Real" is a most exhilarating show which works as an exhaustive overview of one man's life and also as an instructive account of unrivalled artistic genius.


Untitled, 1982. Jean-Michel Basquiat. Courtesy Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen, Rotterdam. ©The Estate of Jean-Michel Basquiat. Licensed by Artestar, New York. Photo: Studio Tromp, Rotterdam.

Whether as playful attempt at self-importance or as calculated myth-making, Basquiat in 1981 got a friend to authenticate his notebooks by writing in it that "the book is absolutely and uniquely the product of Jean-Michel's hand," a month before his first solo exhibition in the US at the Annina Nosei Gallery. Selected pages from notebooks have been framed in glass and hung like works of equal importance as the paintings, and typically features self-composed maxims—"VICTIMS OF EMBELLISHED HISTORY;" "I FEEL LIKE A CITIZEN ITS TIME TO GO AND COME BACK A DRIFTER," wry observations, short-short stories and a list of admired cultural figures. There are also excerpts from Genesis, as well as a recording of Basquiat reading from it, in continuous play, and whose voice lends his jottings authority, ambience and poetic energy that is strongly reminiscent of Frank Ocean's own spoken word performance on "Seigfried" from his album "Blonde."

Heavily panned by the press and viewing public, the 1985 joint exhibition by Basquiat and Warhol was a commercial flop as not a single painting by the superstar pairing was sold. Three decades on and removed from the hostile anticipation and reactions of the time, the collection of 150 works made within a year of intensive productivity, are every bit as vital as other praised works. Extracts from a TV interview of the two in which both seemed genuinely chummy are on display for visitors to watch, as are a selection of works, most recognizable of which is"Arm and Hammer II," a retooling of the once popular American baking soda brand, made into a double-portrait charged with powerful symbolism which could take on different meanings—most inviting of which is as an affirmation of black genius in the portrait of Charlie Parker and the recognition of valorized white labour in the muscly arm fisting a hammer.

'Beat Bop' vinyl record, 1983. Rammellzee vs. K-Rob, produced and with cover artwork by Jean-Michel Basquiat. Courtesy Jennifer Von Holstein. ©The Estate of Jean-Michel Basquiat. Licensed by Artestar, New York. Photo: Justin Piperger

Basquiat's obsession with bebop and adoration of its proponents from Dizzy Gillespie, Thelonious Monk, Miles Davis and most fervently Charlie Parker make for some of his most zestful works, but also function as epigenetic records of black heritage as in "Bird On Money" (1981), "Untitled (Charlie Parker)" (1983), "Plastic Sax" (1984), "King Zulu" (1986) and "King Of The Zulus" (1984-85), a work of cluttered sophistication in which a painted image of Charlie Parker is nestled between pages of notebooks containing drawings and jottings that were pasted onto the canvas, bridging the work along sculpture and painting. What a loss it is to never see what manner of sophistication he would have develop if he'd lived into his 30s, 40s, 50s as it has in the works of Ernest Duku, the Ivorian artist whose "sculpted-paintings" are superbly complex renderings of African ideographic heritages.

Jay Z's casual brag of having a "yellow Basquiat in the kitchen corner" on 2013's "Picasso Baby" speaks to his and the monied rapper's taste for expensive art, but Basquiat's stature as a very early adopter of hip hop receives less recognition, oddly even from rappers who readily idolize and namecheck their forebears. Fab Five Freddy is known to have introduced the young painter, in the 70s, to the cutting and scratching techniques that are integral to the formulation of what became known as hip hop. In 1983, Basquiat would co-produce the still impressive "Beat Bop" with Rammellzee, who rapped along with K-Rod on the 10 minute track. Copies of the vinyl record and slipcover are displayed, their black surfaces carrying white designs by Basquiat which include his signature crown motif.

King Zulu, 1986. Jean-Michel Basquiat. Courtesy Museu d'Art Contemporani de Barcelona.© The Estate of Jean-Michel Basquiat. Licensed by Artestar, New York. Photo: Gasull Fotografia.

"I know so little about my career, to tell you the truth" said Basquiat in a 1985 interview. "I don't know who has what or anything like that really, or even what they paid for it most of the time."

"Basquiat: Boom For Real" is so far the most comprehensive assembly of his art but also his life and 27 years on earth, during which he reportedly made 1,000 drawings and 1,000 paintings of varying historical importance and graphic intensity—a set of achievements yet equalled by any artist, living or dead.

popular

Former UN Secretary General and Nobel Peace Laureate, Kofi Annan, Has Died

The celebrated Ghanaian humanitarian and the first black African to serve as head of the UN, passed away on Saturday at the age of 80.

Kofi Annan, the seventh UN Secretary General and Nobel Peace Laureate, passed away on Saturday morning following a brief illness. "His wife Nane and their children Ama, Kojo and Nina were by his side during the last days," read a family statement. He was 80.

Annan was the first black African to serve as head of the United Nations, holding the prestigious position from 1997 to 2006. He was lauded for his global humanitarian work, eventually earning Annan and the UN a Nobel Peace Prize in 2001 for "their work for a better organized and more peaceful world."

Annan was head of the UN during the onslaught of the Iraq War, proving to be one of the most challenging global events to occur under his time as Secretary General and one of the most divisive of the early 21st century. "I think the worst moment of course was the Iraq war, which as an organization we couldn't stop—and I really did everything I can to try to see if we can stop it," he said in 2006.

Annan was also the founder of the Kofi Annan foundation and chairman of The Elders, an international humanitarian organization of global leaders founded by Nelson Mandela.

Keep reading... Show less
popular

Janet Jackson Returns With Afrobeats-Inspired Song & Video 'Made For Now' Featuring Daddy Yankee

The icon's latest is a nod to the sound, fashion and culture of the diaspora.

Ms. Jackson is back.

The iconic artist returns with her first single since the release of her 2015 album Unbreakable, and it's a timely nod to the "made for now" influence of afrobeats fashion, sound and culture.

On "Made For Now," which features Puerto Rican reggaeton titan Daddy Yankee, Janet Jackson does what she's done successfully so many times throughout her decades-long career: provide an infectious, party-worthy tune that's fun and undeniably easy to dance to. "If you're living for the moment, don't stop," Jackson sings atop production which fuses dancehall, reggaeton and afrobeats.

The New York-shot music video is just as lively, filled with eye-catching diasporic influences, from the wax-print ensembles and beads both Janet and her dancers wear to the choreographed afrobeats-tinged dance numbers, which see the dancers hitting the Shoki at one point in the video. The train of dancers travel throughout the streets of Brooklyn, taking over apartment buildings and rooftops with spirited moves.

Keep reading... Show less
Audio

You Need to Hear Juls' New Single 'Saa Ara'


New hip-hop and highlife grooves from the celebrated UK-based Ghanaian producer.

By merging the diverse influence of growing up in Accra and East London, Juls has managed to cultivate a hybrid afrobeats style that has set him apart from the rest.

For his latest single, "Saa Ara," he teams up with award-winning rapper Kwesi Arthur and gifted lyricist Akan.

The brilliant fusion of vintage highlife instrumentals and booming hip-hop beats, along with Kwesi Arthur's lively chorus and Akan's fiery delivery gives the song a very spiritual and classical feel.

Soothe your soul this weekend with these tasteful sounds from Juls.

Listen to "Saa Ara" by Juls featuring Kwesi Arthur and Akan below.

Keep reading... Show less

get okayafrica in your inbox

news.

popular.