Friday, December 22, 2017

Born on this day in 1960: Jean Basquiat

In this image: Basquiat: Boom For Real. Installation view Barbican Art Gallery 21 September 2017 - 28 January 2018 © Tristan Fewings / Getty Images Artwork: Jean-Michel Basquiat, Untitled, 1982 Courtesy Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen, Rotterdam. © The Estate of Jean-Michel Basquiat. Licensed by Artestar, New York.

From Masaccio to Basquiat is a leap from beauty into a nightmare world, from skill and a vision of transcendence to a world inhabited by savages and violence. Born December 22, 1960. Jean-Michel Basquiat (December 22, 1960 - August 12, 1988) was an American artist whose work commanded astronomical prices during his lifetime but whose reputation has rapidly deflated in the years since his death from a heroin overdose. 

Basquiat first achieved fame as part of SAMO, an informal graffiti duo who wrote enigmatic epigrams in the cultural hotbed of the Lower East Side of Manhattan during the late 1970s where the hip hop, punk, and street art movements had coalesced. By the 1980s, he was exhibiting his paintings in galleries and museums internationally. The Whitney Museum of American Art held a retrospective of his art in 1992. 

Hilton Kramer goes beyond the hype for a critical look at the fashionable art buying world that worshiped Basquiat and a realistic look at his talent (or lack of): "smart but otherwise invincibly ignorant, who used his youth, his looks, his skin color and his abundant sex appeal to win an overnight fame that proved to be his undoing. Yet for a few vertiginous years before he died of a drug overdose in 1988, big-time art dealers were vying for his work, critics were singing his praises and collectors, almost as ignorant about art as Basquiat himself, were outbidding each other to acquire his daubs and scribbles.

The fundamental thing to be understood about his amazing, short-lived career is that Basquiat never showed the slightest evidence of being the kind of serious talent he was touted to be by the sponsors who stood to profit from his success. Having begun his career as a teenage graffiti artist, in his work he never rose above that lowly artistic station even when his paintings were fetching enormous prices. Indeed, even by the wretched standards of graffiti art, which in the 1980s acquired a cult status in certain New York art circles, Basquiat's efforts were distinguished only by the fact that he had learned how to apply its alphabet of primitive signs and symbols to a prepared canvas rather than to the defacement of public buildings."

For some critics, Basquiat's swift rise to fame and equally swift and tragic death by drug overdose epitomizes and personifies the overly commercial, hyped up international art scene of the mid 1980s, a cultural phenomenon that for many observers was symptomatic of the largely artificial bubble economy of the era.

1 comment:

Carla Ives said...

Now Basquiat is a name I know fairly well, being an east coaster who reads the New York papers. He's frequently featured in those papers for one thing or another. As you pointed out, he is worshiped in the art world of New York City. The most commonly depicted piece is that one you have in the middle, the sorta kinda face with the blue background. And while Basquiat may be a very famous artist/grafittist or whatever you want to call him, I am not a fan.