Basquiat

Last week I saw the Basquiat show at the fine new Brooklyn Museum of Art in Brooklyn, New York. Man, it was a good show.
I haven’t painted in probably five years. I’m not proud of it, nor am I somehow self-satisfied that “design” or the “Web” or “bloggin” is more than the sum of the many parts of “art.” (Nor do I think that words in “quotation marks” is helpful in explaining personal presumptions but I’ve deployed them here nonetheless.) I’m not one of those folks who (always) thinks that design has now reached the critical point of inflection in its gamesmanship with contemporary art and won. And I don’t think that the making and exhibiting of art is only for the spiritually bereft wealthy among us. Finally, I’m definitley not one of those Web designers who refuse to go to Chelsea for lack of interest in aesthetic questioning and critical thinking.
The plain fact is that I’m swamped between work and family and art has been squeezed out. Probably for the better, for my sake.
Anyway, this is not about me. Or, rather it’s about my training as a painter back in college in the mid- and late 1980s when many people were set on fire (myself included) by the incredible volume of really interesting paintings being made by folks in and around New York City. As a student, I and many others ate the paint and the glossy magazines that depicted the art of the time and I actively fantasized (out loud no less) about becoming a master painter like Mr. Schnabel, Mr. Salle, Mr. Baecheler, or even Mr. Clemente . I did admire and enjoy a good Jean-Michel Basquiat painting, but these always seemed like playboy paintings for the heroin set. I knew Basquiat developed great iconography (the crowns, the skulls) and good handwriting (the scrawl and fine print on his drawings) and that he was some kind of buddy of Andy Warhol.
But what I only learned last week was that Basquiat was the true genius of the 1980s painter set. Granted, the notion of genius is fraught and was proven so by too many books in the 1980s. But he was. Basquiat was a phenomenally talented painter. In almost any modern painting I see, from a Pollock to a Currin, it’s obvious to find how the painter went wrong — where the left turn should have been right and where the top stroke should have been stronger. Not with Basquiat. I may be too far removed from the production of art but my eye is still pretty sharp: every single painting at the show at the BMA was of perfection. Not a single element felt wrong, not a single element out of place. For all of their criticality and questioning and personaliztion of popular iconography, Basquiat had a hand that could do no wrong before the canvas. I am endlessly impressed with his unforced strength of hand matched with his intense care for line and space and his ability to make disparate motions and movements cohere and coalesce. Formally, Basquiat did no wrong. I’m disappointed that I didn’t know him (or that) better in the 1980s.

2 thoughts on “Basquiat”

  1. I haven’t seen this show, and by Andy’s recommendation, I ought to make a trip to NYC to see it. But I’m already suspecting that this Basquiqt show is just going to be the new ‘A.I.’
    J.M. Basquiat was the Al Jolson coon of the New York ’80’s-Heroin Art Crowd. I’m not sure that a Retrospective/Memorial show at the Brooklyn Museum is going to change my mind.
    What corporations sponsored this show, and do the stockholders own many Basquiats? Were their wives just trying to get the damn paintings out of their houses?

  2. In my memory, Basquiat was dismissed as not sufficiently intellectual for much graduate art program discussion. I can remember one critique quite distinctly in which the professorial comeback was (to paraphrase) “Well sure you like Basquiat; we all like Basquiat, but so what?”
    Even Schnabel’s terrific biopic portrayed him as a kind of brilliant savage (which, interestingly enough, is similar to how Pollack was and still is protrayed).
    I’d love to see the show, but I’ll have to settle for the reproductions. We got down to run through The Gates, but I’d trade that for this.

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