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Jean-Michel Basquiat Downtown 81
Jean-Michel Basquiat on the set of Downtown 81, ‘LIKE AN IGNORANT EASTER SUIT’,Photography Edo Bertoglio ©New York Beat Film LLC By permission of the estate of Jean-Michel Basquiat

The first major UK Basquiat exhibition is coming

Not a single work of the late artist’s exists in a UK public gallery nor has a major exhibition been held on his work – until now

Jean Michel-Basquiat is a name synonymous with New York’s art scene in the 80s. A cultural movement so strong that memories of it have become mythological. It’s surprisingly then that not a single work of the art prodigy’s is held in a public UK collection. There has also, in the 28 years since his death, never been a major exhibition of his works.

Next year, London’s Barbican will change this by staging Boom For Real – the American artist’s first large-scale exhibition in the UK, with over 100 works going on display. Barbican’s Head of Visual Arts, Jane Alison explained in the show’s press release, “The creative brilliance and emotive power of Basquiat continues to have a huge impact and influence on a wide range of artists, filmmakers, and musicians. This will, therefore, be a rare opportunity for visitors to see a huge body of some of his most famous and also little-known works in one place.”

Notably, the exhibition will partially reconstruct the first body of work shown by Basquiat. Originally appearing in PS1’s group show New York / New Wave curated by Diego Cortez in February 1981 – the year known as his breakout. The aim of displaying these works will be to show visitors how the artist was able to gain traction so quickly amongst critics and fellow artists and is the first time they will have been shown in 35 years. Also on display will be his most famous paintings, lesser known ones, notebooks and drawings, all of which will explore his relationship to music, text, film and television, and how these impacted his seminal works.

Dropping out of school at 16-years-old and with no formal training, the Brooklyn-born post-punk poet and painter emerged with contemporaries such as Keith Haring and Julian Schnabel from New York’s underground art scene. With him, came a raw energy that had never been seen before. Exploring racial injustice, identity, and pop culture within his works, Basquiat turned the tables on the art world – which was focused on conceptualism – with a neo-expressionist style. He was quickly hailed a genius and his works would go on to sell into the millions of dollars.

Before he found notoriety, he began his art career as a member of the street art collective SAMO© (which stood for ‘same old, same old bullshit’). Basquiat and classmate Al Diaz would graffiti statements such as “SAMO© DOES NOT CAUSE CANCER IN LABORATORY ANIMALS” and “SAMO© IS AN END TO THE 9 TO 5 ‘I WENT TO COLLEGE’ ‘NOT 2-NITE HONEY’...BLUZ...THINK…” across the city. 

From there, he made his foray into painting; whether with his blood, on his clothes or on the canvas. Basquiat also appeared in nine episodes of the TV series TV Party, in films, such as New York Beat with Debbie Harry, performed with his band Gray, created murals for legendary nightclubs like Mudd Club and Area, and produced a hip hop record called Beat Pop with K-Rob and Rammellzee in 1983. He also collaborated with Andy Warhol on a series of paintings between 1983 and 1985 and the two formed a close kinship. The pop art icon’s death in 1987 is said to have sent Basquiat spiralling into heavy drug use, and a heroin overdose would tragically take his life a year later, at just 28-years-old.

Basquiat: Boom for Real, curated by Dr Dieter Buchhart and Barbican Art Gallery Curator Eleanor Nairne  and organised in collaboration with the Schirn Kunsthalle Frankfurt, will run 21 September 2017 – 28 January 2018

Read our comprehensive guide on the late artist here