New York's Gagosian Gallery presents a major Jean-Michel Basquiat exhibit, opening this week in Chelsea. With more than 50 works being shown, the anticipated show takes the viewer through the late American artist's influential career. During his 27-year life (Basqiat died in 1988), the Brooklyn-born artist broke cultural ground with his Neo-Expressionist visual style and various other passions, including music, poetry, politics, and history. This fusion set the stage for what was to come in the language of contemporary art.
Self-taught and charismatic, at age 15 Basquiat ran away from his Brooklyn family home and into New York's underground art scene. He did some graffiti and started painting, often using found and scavenged materials. By the time of 1982's Neo-Expressionist art boom, Basquiat was a hot commodity. In his early 20s he appeared, the bastion of downtown cool, on the cover of The New York Times Magazine.
Everything bled into and inspired everything else. For example, he had a band, collaborated with Andy Warhol, and appeared as a DJ in Blondie's 1981 "Rapture" video—the first rap song to top the Billboard Hot 100 charts. (He also had an affair with Madonna.)
Dichotomies are prevalent in Basquiat's work, and he'd often saunter around town sporting paint-splattered Armani suits. He was known to combine opposing aesthetic forces, always somehow finding the beauty of the tension between them: graffiti and fine art techniques, emotion and intellect, instinct and urban culture. Like jazz, much of his work is ignited with a sense of seemingly unrelated moments—words, images, and primitive symbols—suddenly and surprisingly coming together as a unified force with powerful, relevant new meaning.
This Gagosian exhibition marks the 30-year point since gallerist Larry Gagosian first showed Basquiat's work. In 1992-93, the Whitney Museum of American Art did a posthumous Basquiat exhibition, and more recently, the Brooklyn Museum of Art showed a retrospective in 2005. The Gagosian exhibit opens this Thursday, February 7 (6 p.m.) and runs through April 6. Mark your calendars. 555 West 24th St., 212-741-1111