BASQUIAT: BOOM FOR REAL

 

The first large-scale exhibition in the UK of the work of American artist Jean-Michel Basquiat (1960—1988) is currently taking place at the Barbican.

This unprecedented exhibition brings together an outstanding selection of more than 100 works from international museums and private collections.

Jean-Michel Basquiat was one of the most significant artists of the 20th century. Born in Brooklyn in 1960, to a Haitian father and a Puerto Rican mother, he grew up amid the post-punk scene
in lower Manhattan. After leaving school at 17, he invented the character ‘SAMO©’, writing poetic graffiti that captured the attention of the city. He exhibited his first body of work in the influential group exhibition New York/New Wave at P.S.1, Institute for Art and Urban Resources, Inc., in 1981.

When starting out, Basquiat worked collaboratively and fluidly across media, making poetry, performance, music and Xerox art as well as paintings, drawings and objects. Upstairs, the exhibition celebrates this diversity, tracing his meteoric rise, from the postcard he plucked up the courage to sell to his hero Andy Warhol in SoHo in 1978 to one of the first collaborative paintings that they made together in 1984. By then, he was internationally acclaimed
– an extraordinary feat for a young artist with no formal training, working against the racial prejudice of the time.

In the studio, Basquiat surrounded himself with source material. He would sample from books spread open on the floor and the sounds of the television or boom box – anything worthy of his trademark catchphrase ‘boom for real’. Downstairs, the exhibition unpicks this encyclopaedia of references – from early cinema to black cultural history to jazz. As the writer Glenn O’Brien wrote following Basquiat’s death in 1988: ‘He ate up every image,
every word, every bit of data that appeared in front of him and he processed it all into a bebop cubist pop art cartoon gospel that synthesized the whole overload we lived under into something that made an astonishing new sense.