basquiat’s first uk retrospective is coming next year
Boom for Real will open at the Barbican in 2017, the first large exhibition of his work in the UK.
Jean Michel Basquiat. Irony of a Negro Policeman, 1981. Private Collection © Estate of Jean-Michel Basquiat. Licensed by Artestar, New York
Jean-Michel Basquiat's work is famously hard to see in the UK; you might be lucky enough to see them changing hands for millions of pounds at auction houses, or at Frieze masters, but at a public institution? Unfortunately not. There've been precious few of his works even on display around Europe; there was a small Swiss retrospective a decade or so ago, The Guggenheim in Bilbao staged an incredible exhibition of his work last year. With the work primarily in private hands, it's a formidable thing to organise.
It's a shame as he's one of the most significant, talented, singular painters of his generation; few have combined his energy, complexity, talent for cultural references, knowledge of art history, anger, and politics so beautifully.
As well as a leading artist, he was someone who could step confidently away from the easel into the limelight. He was a cultural figure who dated Madonna, hung out on New York's post-punk underground, or with Warhol. He went from doing graffiti on the streets to the elite of the art world, before he died, aged just 27, of a heroin overdose. He left behind an impressive body of work, over 1000 paintings, which we're still grappling with.
Boom for Real promises to show the painter in a way he's never been seen before, to untangle the complex web of references that made up this body of work; from the film and music he drew influence from, to the politics and painters that inspired him. Although untrained, he was a voracious learner, and took influence from the likes of Cy Twombly, Francis Bacon, Pablo Picasso, refracting them through his own life and into his own style.
Much of his work was intensely political, something that's easily overlooked in the rush to canonise him as a pop cultural icon, and often made easier by the fact that it's so hard to actually see his works here. The works bear close scrutiny; colours and textures and compositions make more sense IRL instead of from behind a computer screen. Boom for Real promises to be a long overdue reevaluation of his legacy. It will re-stage Basquiat's first body of work, exhibited at PS1 in 1981, an exhibition that propelled the artist to fame at the start of his career, and made him an instant celebrity on the New York scene.
Alongside this, Boom for Real will unite over 100 of his works, many never before displayed in this country, and will run alongside a film season, The Grime and Glamour that will explore New York in the 70s and 80s.
Text Felix Petty
Image courtesy of the Guggenheim