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

Black Twitter's Reactions to the Royal Wedding are Priceless

"When you're about to throw some seasoning on the proceedings."

The Royal Wedding happened this morning at St. George's Chapel at Windsor Castle in England, where Prince Harry and Meghan Markle solidified their union with a grand ceremony surrounded by friends, family and loved ones.

Around 600 guests were in attendance for the affair, including Oprah Winfrey, Idris Elba and Serena Williams just to name a few.

Markle is now the first melanin-possessing person to become part of the British royal family, as her official title is now Duchess of Sussex.

The entire event was streamed live on Twitter, and of course the internet had quite a lot to say about it.

Folks have been sharing their commentary all morning, with many on Twitter highlighting some of the ceremony's "blackest" moments, and sharing funny quips about pretending not to care about the wedding, but watching anyway.

Keep reading... Show less
popular
Image courtesy of Jo Griffin

This Tanzanian Girls' Football Team Came Second in Moscow but Feel Triumphant

Meet the highflying Tanzanian girls' football team, stars of this week's Street Child World Cup.

With a huge smile and surrounded by some of her new friends from 20 different countries at the Sapsan Arena in Moscow, Asteria Robert, the 14-year-old captain of the Tanzanian girls' football team, takes in the atmosphere following the final of the Street Child World Cup.

"When we left we couldn't believe we could reach this level and we're so glad we got this far in the tournament," says Asteria, after leading her team on to the podium to receive medals and a trophy for coming in second place.

The Street Child World Cup is a football tournament for children all over the world who have experienced homelessness or are considered at risk of living on the streets. It takes place before the FIFA World Cup.

After a high-octane performance with many chances at goal, the Tanzanian girls were defeated 1-0 by a team from Rio de Janeiro at the stadium—a stone's throw from Lokomotiv, home of the newly-crowned Russian Premier League champions. Some of the girls slumped on the floor at the final whistle but soon gathered themselves to show sportsmanship and congratulate the winners from Brazil

The final game was live-streamed by Goal and seen by more than 130,000 people. In the stadium the team were cheered on by teenagers from across the world, banging drums and waving the Tanzanian flag.

Keep reading... Show less
popular
Supplied.

Swaziland’s Rendition Croons About Love & The Hustle On His Debut EP ‘Art.Love.Magic’

Listen to Rendition's debut EP.

Rendition is a producer from Swaziland, whose debut EP we are premiering here. Rendition has produced for a handful of artists such as uSanele, Una Rams, Just Robyn, 80 Script, among others.

On the EP, which is titled Art. Love. Magic, and was recorded at Red Bull Studios in Cape Town, Rendition croons about relationships ("On My Way," "Need Some More," "Crazy Love") and the hustle ("Overtime"), with the aid of autotune.

Keep reading... Show less

get okayafrica in your inbox

news.

popular.