January 25, 2018

The Many Facets of Basquiat at Barbican’s ‘Boom for Real’ Exhibition

Article Submitted to the Polaroid Originals Magazine by DJ Pangburn.

For years now, Jean-Michel Basquiat has occupied a space in our imaginations that seems more mythical than real. And this mythical Basquiat is a multi-faceted symbol for many things, but most especially ecstatic talent, sudden wealth and fame, and crippling and ultimately tragic addiction. In this way, he is almost like Arthur Rimbaud—or, name any dead 1960s rocker—who also shot into the artistic ferment of the times, only to exhaust all energy and die young.

© Tristan Fewings / Getty Images | Artworks: © The Estate of Jean-Michel Basquiat. Licensed by Artestar.

Basquiat: Boom for Real, the first large-scale Basquiat show in the UK—which runs until January 28th at The Barbican—doesn’t completely dispense with the myth, or challenge the “street artist’s” place in the big money art industry (how could it?). But it does offer a glimpse of the Basquiat that was a living and breathing human being.

Apart from 100 Basquiat paintings culled from international collections, the exhibition features rare photography, film and archive materials that show the Basquiat behind the newspaper spreads and Warhol collaborations. Boom for Real even attempts to take visitors back, via a simulated group show with artist contemporaries, to the New York new wave that allowed Basquiat to dabble in the creative avenues of the time: hip-hop’s graffiti culture, poetry, post-punk No Wave, underground TV (Glenn O’Brien’s TV Party) film and, of course, muse to art’s elder statesmen, Warhol.

© Tristan Fewings / Getty Images | Artworks: Jean-Michel Basquiat Glenn, 1984, Private collection. © The Estate of Jean-Michel Basquiat. Licensed by Artestar, New York.
© Tristan Fewings / Getty Images | Artwork: Jean-Michel Basquiat, Untitled, 1982 Courtesy Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen, Rotterdam. © The Estate of Jean-Michel Basquiat. Licensed by Artestar, New York.
© Tristan Fewings / Getty Images | Artwork: Jean-Michel Basquiat, Untitled (Football Helmet), c. 1981–84 Mugrabi Collection, © The Estate of Jean-Michel Basquiat. Licensed by Artestar, New York

We even get to see some of Maripol’s Polaroid photographs, shot with her trusty SX-70, that show a more casual Basquiat than the art world star that was built by eager gallerists, collectors and journalists. Visitors can also see Basquiat in the film Downtown 81. Directed by Edo Bertoglio, and written and produced by Glenn O’Brien and Patrick Montgomery, the film follows Basquiat around New York City as he encounters bands and folks in the art world.

In Boom for Real, Basquiat, in a sense, speaks for himself. Strip away the myth, and here is the situation the artist found himself in: an African-American straddling the lines between New York’s underground scenes and the rarified atmosphere of the wealthy, communicating to the world his vision of a deeply flawed but still beautiful America and larger world. Basquiat’s life as an artist was unusual for the times, and it’s right there in the paintings.

© Tristan Fewings / Getty Images | Artworks courtesy of Maripol
© Tristan Fewings / Getty Images | Artworks: © The Estate of Jean-Michel Basquiat. Licensed by Artestar, New York

Header Photo: © Edo Bertoglio, courtesy of Maripol. For more information about future exhibitions visit www.barbican.org.uk