The “Jean-Michel Basquiat: King Pleasure” show opened Saturday, April 1st, 2023, in Los Angeles on Grand Avenue in downtown LA. The show runs for four more months.
The Estate of Jean-Michel Basquiat is having a show of many of his artworks, including sketches, prints, photos of him, and rare paintings. Many of them have never before been seen by the public or even documented publicly through photos. This fact along makes this show incredibly rare, and exciting to see for any art lover, and particularly, for any fan of Basquiat. The show is titled “King Pleasure,” after one of his paintings.
The show itself is at an unconventional location in LA, at 100 South Grand Avenue, downtown. 100 S. Grand is basically a 32 story or so tall high-rise with a hotel. Parking and entry is a breeze, and all the staff are very kind and cordial. The show is held in around four large empty spaces, where guests exit and re-enter different doors for each area. Be sure that you see it all, and ask them where to start at.
The first room to the left features two amazing works, including a long painting that’s probably at least a hundred feet long. Adjacent to it, is another massive painting on stretched canvas, that’s also great. Between these, is a large stack of around 30 television sets, all playing in unison, and at times, differently, with images of Basquiat and his life and friends in NYC during his moments working with Warhol and partying with that whole scene there during the early and mid 80’s.
Amidst all of this are nice cushion sofas to plop on, chairs, and a bar type area in front of the long horizontal painting. There is a new trend among museums to make them more “family friendly,” and this appears to have been an expression of that experiment. Kids playing here, right next to artwork worth millions of dollars.
The show itself is phenomenal–exciting, beautiful, powerful, and unforgettable. I first of learned Jean-Michel Basquiat when I was 15, and learning more about art, punk rock, and the counterculture and club scene of NYC and LA. I have been fascinated by him and his work ever since.
Born in December 22nd, 1960, in Park Slope, Brooklyn, New York, Jean-Michel Basquiat is one of the highest selling artists of all time, and the first Black painter to make it big in the art world.
Part Haitian, and part Puerto Rican, Basquiat was raised Catholic. Like his contemporary and later good friend Andy Warhol, his Catholic upbringing had a large influence on his work and world view. Reading “Grey’s Anatomy” while hospitalized at 7 years of age for a broken arm after being hit by a car, the book later would go on to influence his paintings, with the artist at times drawing maze-like intestines within some of his figurative works.
Reportedly throwing a pie in the face of his school’s principal, he reportedly got kicked out of high school at which point his father then allegedly kicked him out of the house. That same year, his first main press was reportedly in 1978 by The Village Voice who wrote an article about his graffiti art tags under the name SAMO© with his graffiti art partner Al Diaz. SAMO was constructed around a fake religion they invented during high school. And was initially a reference to the “same old” poor quality weed he was smoking at that time.
“Black people are not even portrayed realistically, or not even portrayed in modern art.” -Basquiat
Fluent in English, Spanish, and French, Basquiat’s level of sophistication and exotic, model look made him perfect for the rich, famous, elite art world he would suddenly later find himself the center of.
From the world of experimental punk, with his no-wave noise band GREY (named after “Grey’s Anatomy”), to the world of hip hop, celebrity, and fine art, Basquiat would rise rapidly to become a cultural icon not only for the Black community, buy within the art world.
Bold, beautiful, and brilliant, Jean-Michel Basquiat lived as furiously as he painted–daring, confrontational, and unconventional. His dear friend, Andy Warhol, helped position him alongside himself to help launch his career. Jean-Michel was everything Andy had wanted; young, hip, wild, and talented. Basquiat was not only someone Warhol could help mold and help launch, but more importantly, enjoy the company of, gaze upon, and fascinate over. They were both fans of each, and each had something that the other wanted. Andy had fame, and Jean-Michel had a street cred, and a daring new edge that Warhol found fascinating. They also loved each others work, so much so, they even collaborated on over 150 paintings together.
Foolish critics dismissed their works, which both artists reportedly took terribly hard, causing their years of friendship to come to an abrupt halt, yet they still had love for one another. As Warhol, Basquiat’s greatness lives on.
This article will be continued on Monday, April 10, 2023.
Jean-Michel Basquiat, Untitled (Erok), 1982, Estate of Basquiat; “Pleasure King” Show, April 1, 2023. Photo Credit, (c) 2023, Bruce Edwin.