Exhibition: Basquiat – Boom for Real
Unpacking the artist from the phenomenon, London Barbican’s Boom for Real is a riotous retrospective of Basquiat’s dazzling and energetic painting, tracking his short but influential career up until his untimely death.
Despite holding the record for the most expensive painting ever sold at auction by an American artist (Untitled was sold earlier this year for a cool $110.5 million(!) joining only ten other paintings that have hit the hallowed $110 million mark) the late Jean-Michel Basquiat is significantly lesser known in the UK when compared to his American homeland. Boom for Real – the first major UK exhibition of Basquiat’s work in 20 years – aims to change that, stripping away the man from the myth while they’re at it.
Encapsulating the sprawling energy of the New York downtown countercultural scene of the 1980s, Basquiat’s frenetic paintings, drawings and witty graffitied epigrams are a celebration of his mad and undeniable genius. Brooklyn-born and raised, his work serves as a loveletter to New York City and the visual art of the punk, hip hop and new wave era. Notable highlights of the exhibition include an arresting large-scale self-portrait of Basquiat with close friend and collaborator Andy Warhol, polaroids of Basquiat and his celebrity friends hanging out at TriBeCa underground club Mudd Club, and Downtown 81; a New York Beat movie depicting a day in the young-artist’s life, capturing the decade’s burgeoning music and art scene, all played out against the backdrop of gritty ’80s SoHo and Lower East Side.
With a charisma and manic energy that drew admiration from the cream of the New York underground scene (Andy Warhol, Keith Haring, Madonna and Debbie Harry are among his notable friends and girlfriends of the time), Basquiat’s star quality sometimes managed to outshine his work. Having never been to art school, not only did he have to navigate the prolific racial stereotyping of 1980s America, but also the heavy criticism of the art world, who were quick to dismiss Basquiat’s work as lowbrow and gimmicky. The Barbican’s treatment of his work sets out to demystify his celebrity, focusing on the merit, technique and vision within his neo-expressionist work – celebrating his artistry and downplaying his rockstar lifestyle. And it pays off. Finally, nearly 30 years after his death, Basquiat’s work is garnering the critical acclaim it so fully deserves.