strike out is a typographic choice that draws attention; it requires you to notice it until temporarily dismissing everything else around it. Jean-Michel Basquiat, the pioneering painting prodigy who received much acclaim before his untimely death in 1988 at the age of 27, deliberately used this device on his canvases. In fact, for a young, dreadlocked Haitian and Puerto Rican artist navigating the predominantly white penance art world of the city of New York in the late 1970s and 1980s his presence alone was a breakthrough – attracting eyes, intrigue, criticism and passive observation. His outsiderness was ultimately surpassed only by the ingenuity of his work.
Neo-Expressionist painting (the movement Basquiat helped popularize) was direct and defiant in its commentary, eschewing the politeness of minimalist concepts that dominated mid-century in exchange for energetic canvases characterized by their vibrancy and fair representation of reality. In that tradition, Lisane Basquiat and Jeanine Heriveaux, the late artist’s younger sisters who have run his estate since their father’s death in 2013, have curated and executive produced an exhibition – opening Friday – that tells the true story of how Basquiat lived on, with some 200 works of art and ephemera privately maintained by the family for decades.
“Jean-Michel always had these different points of view of things that were very local, but then also had the ability to step back and look at them from a more global perspective,” says Lisane Basquiat, co-administrator of the estate of Jean Michel. said Michel Basquiat.
Basquiat’s travels played a major role in his work; he spent time in Puerto Rico, Hawaii, and Los Angeles “for about eight months in 1982,” says Heriveaux. “Then he came back here and visited rapper and artist Rammellzee and a graffiti artist named Toxic… then he painted the works ‘Hollywood Africans’. He painted those works to symbolize their visit here in LA.”
The family chose to put on the show in the Frank Gehry-designed Grand LA because of the surrounding arts community (with MOCA and The Broad nearby) downtown, and to honor the wishes of West Coast Basquiat aficionados, who crave the chance to see the exhibit which first opened in April 2022 at the NYC Landmark Starrett-Lehigh Building.
“Los Angeles has a very rich artist and creative community, so we thought it would be really good to come here and connect with this community…we felt this was a place that would be very receptive and warm. to welcome Jean-Michel,’ says Lisane Basquiat.[He] liked it here, he enjoyed it.”
An avid collector during his travels abroad, several objects and ephemera acquired by Basquiat during visits to Japan, Maui and the Ivory Coast can be found in the portion of the exhibit depicted as a recreation of his iconic Great Jones Street Studio ( which doubled as his apartment) in Manhattan. The experiences he had, places he saw, and people he met through chance encounters in these places were also incorporated into Basquiat’s notebooks.
“I think it’s pretty amazing how well known he’s become and how he’s been integrated into popular culture both here in the United States and around the world. He loved to travel… and in his work you see comments about colonialism, about Africa, about Hawaii,” says Lisane Basquiat.
Talks about putting together the “King Pleasure” exhibition first started in 2017 (at the suggestion of their stepmother Nora Fitzpatrick), but it wasn’t until 2020 that Lisane Basquiat and Heriveaux began working formally with producer Ileen Gallagher and ISG Productions Ltd.
“I would say most of our collection has never been seen,” says Heriveaux. ‘We do lend to different museums, but I’d say there are maybe a dozen that we’ve ever lent. That is why we felt it was important to share what we have.”
Some of the unique pieces include Basquiat’s real bike (“that means he’s unable to get a taxi,” Heriveaux says) and two large-scale paintings (one is 40 feet wide) he created for the reopening from the Palladium Club in 1985. , found in the VIP Michael Todd Room. “[They’re] just part of that 80s club story,” Heriveaux muses. “It’s a beautiful room to end up in because it showcases Jean-Michel and his social scene — he partied a lot, he loved music — so it’s just a great end to the show.”
The show is a timeline of Basquiat’s life and career, organized nonlinearly. Arranged by concept and theme, each of the four gallery spaces speaks to a different element of who the artist was as a public figure, but more importantly, who he was as a person.
“It was almost like Janine, Jean-Michel and I had this opportunity to come together to create the celebration of a lifetime,” Lisane Basquiat says of the curatorial process. “And so for us, it was both the gift of really making time to sit down and look at hundreds of works to distill into what you see here, but also just an opportunity for us to take a little bit of closure from certain things — closure of the experience of his passing and the effect and impact Jean-Michel’s passing had on us as a family I think it was an opportunity to focus more specifically on the personal aspects of the loss of Jean-Michel Michel, because so many of us live [managing the estate] is about Jean-Michel the artist, this persona that people know. But this was a chance for us to put all that aside and really focus on our brother and our family.
High school children’s drawings and illustrations dominate the beginning of the exhibit, a reminder that Basquiat’s talent didn’t spontaneously pop out of his head in his twenties; the interest in cartoons and their symbolic, slapstick humour, in language and society, was there from the start. The Basquiat family home in Brooklyn is also represented, using real heirlooms to decorate the temporary exhibit.
“I think for us it was more about figuring out what the chapters of his life were. And then take those chapters and find the works that we felt fit into those different chapters,” says Lisane Basquiat. “He really respected and honored black athletes, musicians and actors…so we wanted to find a way to share that he had that respect by finding works that fit that theme.”
Adds Heriveaux: “[One] room [is called] Royalty because we thought it was important to create our own gallery [for] all the drawings and paintings he made of his black heroes. So you’ve got Sugar Ray Robinson, Charlie Parker, Miles Davis, Grace Jones, Nat King Cole… we felt it was important to weave that together, as all of these creatives were so influential and important to him.
The symbols and sayings that vibrate from Basquiat’s canvases like chromatic television clutter situate him as an observer of the cultural climate in which he lived, but also as a clairvoyant – somehow sharply attuned to the conversations and trends that began long after his passing. would stay and be reviewed. . “We continue to face issues of police brutality against black men. We are still talking about the effects of colonialism, racism and some of the more negative aspects of capitalism. Jean-Michel has a clear and strong voice in that conversation,” says Lisane Basquiat, adding, “And I think Jean-Michel’s voice is so useful today because of his very deliberate and confident use of the crown and it on his put your own head. . There’s something to be said [there] for people of color today.”
During the New York exhibition, the family put together a series of programs around the show in fashion, film, music and food – all inspired by the artist’s work.
“We want to do that here, and we want to do it to perfection because we’re settling in a very creative environment and city,” says Lisane Basquiat. “I think this is a great way to come in and really immerse yourself in the beauty of being black and in the incredible power that exists when a human being chooses to truly live their passion, live their heart and the gifts and talents that he has. has.”