Jean-Michel Basquiat was one of the most significant and influential artists of the 20th Century. Born in Brooklyn in 1960 to a Haitian Father and Puerto Rican mother, he grew up in the lower side of Manhattan, and was heavily involved in the new wave an post-punk scene. He first saw major success in 1981 when he exhibited his first body of work at the influential New York/New Wave exhibition at P.S.1. After meeting with Andy Warhol in 1978 in SoHo, New York, he later collaborated with him on numerous project throughout the 1980s. His life, legacy and most importantly his art is being celebrated at the Barbican Centre in London..
Shown at the art gallery a Level 3 of the centre, the exhibition was set up on two floors. Upstairs, the exhibition celebrates his beginnings, from his SAMO© character invention (for ‘same ‘ol shit), to his fist few art installations and exhibitions. Each room in divided into the different phases of his artistic path, as well as specific movements he was a part of. The large canvas paintings are overwhelming and powerful, as the colour-rich and abstract nature of his art dominating every corner of the rooms. Smaller exhibits of postcard art, leaflets and posters are also present, which showcase some of Basquiat’s more intricate creations. Film and audio is also part of the overall experience with TV’s showing excerpts of a captivating conversation between Basquiat and Andy Warhol, as well as audio-snippets of Jean-Michel reciting some of his poems.
The downstairs floor showcases large canvas paintings, which also dominate the open spaces, but are at least twice as large and impressive. His infatuation with jazz can be seen throughout the bottom floor, with works inspired by musical heroes Charlie Parker and Louis Armstrong being shown. As a black man living throughout the 70s and 80s, race is a prominent theme of his art. Interpreting and commenting on Jesse Owens’ record-breaking 1936 Olympic Games was a powerful moment as it showed the strength of black people & minorities in a scary time all around the world. His influences in film, poetry, art and music is shown as well, highlighting his eclectic and diverse tastes.
What this exhibition does so well is let you immerse yourself in his world. A lot of the times I felt like I was in 1980s New York City, experiencing the artistic lifestyle through his work. The only criticism I would give however (and it may not even be criticism at all), is that there is no real insight into his childhood, family or relationships. It does add to the mystique of his persona, but it would have been interesting for me to have a bit of insight into where and how he started creating in the first place.
Images taken from barbican.co.uk
Otherwise this is an exhibition I definitely recommend you go to if you’re in London until the 28th of January. There are various events as well to catch later in association with the exhibition. More information can be found on their website, so please do not hesitate to check it out.