by Rahul KumarMay 10, 2022
The art of American artist Jean-Michel Basquiat (1960-1988) is both universal and world-renowned, yet it is also profoundly personal and intimate. In all of his contributions to art history, he explored themes that are still relevant today, such as inequality, social justice, and classism, women's objectification and the history of the African-American experience. Basquiat was a generous, inquisitive, smart, fun-loving, and hardworking individual. No one understands his inner strength and courage better than his family, who are now bringing to the public a glimpse into his world through never seen before masterpieces to light. The family of Jean-Michel Basquiat is presenting Jean-Michel Basquiat: King Pleasure, a 12,000 sqft immersive exhibition celebrating the life and art of Jean-Michel Basquiat, at New York City's landmark Starrett-Lehigh Building. The showcase also includes live music, fashion shows, performances, and educational initiatives in the spirit of Basquiat.
For the first time, the Basquiat family is revealing their collection and providing an intimate insight into Basquiat’s life in a way that only they can. The show, which includes over 200 works and objects from the estate's collection, 177 of which haven’t previously been seen, takes visitors from his early infancy to his posthumous achievements, and contextualises how his ancestry and family influenced his work. The late artist’s two sisters, Jeanine and Lisane, have curated the exhibition. They occupy a unique position in the art world as two Black women who are not part of the art establishment yet manage one of the world's most important and precious collections.
“This is a way for us to collaborate as a community and fill in the spaces from all of our perspectives on Basquiat and his impact on the world. It’s a gift to our family and others that they can look at this personal account of who he was,” Lisane explains. “We wanted to bring his work and personality forward, in a way only we can, for people to immerse themselves in. We want this to be an experiential and multi-dimensional celebration of Jean-Michel's life."
According to official reports, this art exhibition showcasing the man behind the icon has been years in the making, from the initial idea in 2017 around the 30th anniversary of Basquiat’s passing to now, as Jeanine illustrates: “There’s been many exhibitions of Basquiat’s work, but never told from the perspective of the family – Basquiat as a child, a man, a son, and a brother. As we were all in lockdown, we said: ‘You know what, maybe now is the right time.’” King Pleasure takes its title from a painting created by Basquiat in 1987, as well as the name of a bebop loving bartender turned jazz vocalist whose "Moody's Mood For Love" closed out Frankie Crocker’s show on WBLS, and marked a place in time for the Basquiat family. “Jean-Michel was a king – I think the title sums him up perfectly,” Jeanine says.
Jean-Michel, a self-taught artist, was able to navigate both his creative talent and the professional complexities of an industry he'd had no prior exposure to at such a young age, forging relationships with iconic artists like Andy Warhol, gallerists like Annina Nosei, musicians like Madonna, John Lurie, David Byrne, Debbie Harry, and Fred Brathwaite (Fab 5 Freddy), as well as photographers like Michael Halsband, and curators who all helped set the tone for his explosive career.
“It was important to have a show that all people want to experience. We want them to see Basquiat in themselves, an artist that looks like them. We want it to be completely accessible for those who have felt intimidated in the past by going to a museum,” Jeanine explains. Lisane adds: “I want people to walk away with inspiration, hope & confidence in themselves to do the same thing with whatever it is for them – whether it’s painting, music or being an accountant. To live their lives with that same commitment, dedication and grit.”
Jean Michel Basquiat: King Pleasure is on view at the Starrett-Lehigh Building in New York City.
(Text by Vatsala Sethi, Asst. Editorial Coordinator (Arts))