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Retrospect Jean-Michel Basquiat

AT VUITTON FOUNDATION October 03 of 2018 to January 15 of 2019 ,since it was successful (public and critics liked it) extended to January 21.

More than 120 artworks exposed on 3 levels !

(My second favorite of the year 2018)

Friday, 13th of october, autumn comes but we still enjoy summer warmth and obviously Paris beautiful sun. Since i returned from Dakar, i decided to go watch the long-awaited exhibition of Basquiat at Louis Vuitton Foundation.

Went there without tickets, i didn't tought that there will be many people there. I was wrong!

: that day they were a lot of art lovers who also made a date to meet with this big artist!

Because of the queue, an hostess asked me if i did a reservation by internet or if i already bought a ticket. I responded to her no : she advised me to comeback the next day, since the awaited time was estimed to 1h and 30 min but i was determined to wait (even if the queue was really long!)

Luckily, i saw a young men who approached a lady. He asked her if she wanted to buy a ticket that he bought on internet for his grandfather, who didn't come because of tiredness. He started to negociate the price with the lady who didn't seemed convinced, so i jumped at the opportunity!

Moral of the story : always book online!

That being said , the exhibition start with Egon Schiele an Austrian painter and drawer, born on June 12, 1890,at Tulln an der Donau close to Vienna who died on october 31, 1928. The exhibition's currator wanted to commemorate him since it was his centenary of his death.

Initially everything is in opposition if we put Basquiat next to him artistically and historically. Surprisingly, those two have a number of common features that brings them together : both of them died prematurely (at 27 for Basquiat and 28 for Egon Schiele), they had a dazzling career,controversial yet productive. They're also two skinned men at odds with society codes, haunted by their tormented bodies.

They are shown on painting and drawings by the artist that i looked at with interest : a great opportunity for me to discover this artist i didn't knew before!

Then begin Basquiat : what a pleasure !

The 3-floor exhibition presents a chronological and thematic timeline with more than 135 pieces of the artist including some who were rarely shown : unseen works.

As i went along in this big area to all these works, i started to discover Basquiat's universe , i started to understand and seized more and more his personality ; his imagination,commitment but also his unhapiness, kind of a melancholy he lives with, undoubtedly peculiar to great artists.

I discovered Basquiat, when he was a beginner with pieces he realised in the early 80s :

those famous skulls (the heads)one of them sold in 2017 for 110.487.500 dollars reunited for the first time in the exhibition.

They show the discomfort of this young men and his big interest for the human anatomy.

This interest for the anatomy is also a source of inspiration with its skeletons, skulls,etc.

His childhood :

Jean-Michel Basquiat was born on december 22, 1960 in New York's Brooklyn neighborhood from an haitian father and a puerto-rican mother. Bilingual, he started to discover art at a young age thanks to his mother who brought him to many museums in the town. Introduced to art by his mother,his maternal grandparents helped him discover music.

At 7 years old, Basquiat gets it by a car in the street when he was playing with friends.

His severe injuries led to the removal of his spleen, keeping him in hospitals for months. To pass time in his hospital's room, his mother gifted him an anatomy manual : "Gray’s Anatomy" (1878). At first sight, the book was off-putting, but it won him over.

This major event created on him a big traumatism in his life but will also be a catalyst for his creations. Many of them represent human anatomy and he will grow a strong interest for anatomy studies of Léonard de Vinci.

His world :

His world is a mix of a sacred universe of the voodoo world,of the Bible, and at the same time comics,publicity or media without counting music heroes.

In his works, he often put a black figure at the center. Among his heroes ; there are : boxers : « the boxer » represent Cassius Clay (future Mouhamed Ali), but also musicians like the jazzman : Charlie Parker.

His works are screams from the heart against racism : he puts the spotlight on black culture. He represents above all an anarchic urban counter-culture known as the "underground".

A committed artist for the black cause.

There's no doubt that his commitment to the black cause and the influence of African culture played a major role in his creative process.

A music fan

Initiated at a young age to black music by his maternal grandparents, we find this influence in his works like for example the blues and jazz singer : Billie Holiday, wich he was a fan.

He liked to paint while he listened to music, especially hip pop. He also produced and drawed the album cover of an album (Beat Bop, 1983 record sleeves, produced and directed by Basquiat in New York, collection of Larry Warsh)

A young black from New York

Born in the 60s in New York, he has suffered a lot of police abuses on black people. He grew up in Brooklyn, and he surveyed New York streets to do tags with his friend group, at the time, like the grapher Al Diaz.

The exhibition hung paintings next to eachother who talked about racial violence and police abuses with the representation of a white policeman and a black policeman, who performed a racist act : a way to mock hypocrisy of american society!

An artist with assumed african roots

Basquiat was really into black culture thanks to stories and books that he read. He liked talking about negritude referring to the movements of the 60s created by Aimée Césaire and Senghor : young black students from Paris who defended black culture.

African influences in his work

His universe is marked with african culture. He likes to represent griot's character : it was for him a messenger, a cultural transmitter who took an important place in the society : we see him in his work called "the griot".

In his 1984 work, he drawed the nsibidi, a symbols system developped by south-east population of Nigeria.

He also refers to God Ogun from HaÏti : the god of irons and blacksmiths, trough this character crowned with nails. “The form of his head, the color that he decided to use and how he cutted the crowned" refers to african statuary, described by a specialist.

The book "Flash of the Spirit: African and Afro-American art and philosophy" by Robert Farris Thompson also reinforces his interest for the continent's culture. "The book focuses on five African populations - Yoruba, Kongo, Ejagham, Mande and Cross River - who developed symbols that will be found via the African diaspora in the Caribbean and the USA," describes Dagara Dakin of the Fondation Vuitton.

"Here, Jean-Michel Basquiat turns it into an iconic figure. In this bas-relief, there are wooden slats, repainted in gold. In the West, in religious figures, we'll use gold to speak of this sacred dimension of the figures that are represented. It makes the griot a sacred figure." Dagara Dakin, specialist in African art at the Fondation Louis Vuitton.

© C. Bour / TV5 MONDE

Basquiat in Ivory Coast : his exhibition in Abidjan french cultural center

Few people know it, but Basquiat came to Ivory Coast a year before his death. From October 10 to November 7, 1986, Basquiat exhibited at the French Cultural Center in Abidjan.

Some thirty canvases from the artist's personal collection (including the famous "Charles 1er", 198X158/acrylic and chalk on canvas, 1982) were exhibited in the lobby of the CCF in Abidjan, a popular venue for Ivorian and African artists at the time.

The American artist did not receive the welcome he was expecting: "Ivorians didn't respond to the call as they should have, it was a missed appointment", recounts Ivorian photographer Joana Choumali.

But after a few days in the capital, he headed for Korhogo, where he discovered the Ivorian traditions that would inspire his latest works.

In 1988, Basquiat exhibited at Yvon Lambert in Paris. There, he met Ivorian painter Ouattara Watts. A brief, intense friendship was born.

The day after his death, Basquiat was discovered to have a round-trip ticket to Ivory Coast scheduled for August 12... a missed appointment.

At the time, Basquiat was a great defender of his African influence and roots. We often see this in his works like his representations with characteristic masks.

Basquiat and Warhol

One of the major encounters of his life was with Andy Warhol. Still little-known, he sold Warhol a small postcard in a restaurant.

Later, after his success, he met Warhol again. A close friendship and intense collaboration began in 1983.

The two artists collaborated for 2 years. Jean-Michel Basquiat accentuates Warhol's

pictorial interventions by integrating his own elements.

The two men teamed up with Italian painter Francesco Clémente to produce fifteen works.

This collaboration with Warhol led to fierce criticism of the works created by the two artists. They affected Basquiat deeply and created tensions between them. Shortly afterwards, Basquiat and Warhol parted company.

When Warhol died in 1987, the deeply affected artist was inconsolable.

Beyond his sadness at the death of his idol, drugs were the greatest evil of his life and the cause of his death. He suffered an overdose in 1988 at the age of 28.

What I liked

More than 130 previously unseen works, some of them rarely shown, all in one place is an extraordinary opportunity to discover Basquiat in all his facets, to better understand his commitments and his life, and to apprehend his superb works!

I also liked the guides describing Basquiat's paintings: a real plus for better understanding his paintings and their history, linking the work to the moment in the artist's life.

Although this immense artist is classed as a contemporary street artist, he went far beyond this.

His artistic bulimia led him to paint everywhere: fridges, pieces of wood, tiles, doors (and so on.)

The anecdotes are numerous and unbelievable: his wife at the time, Suzanne Mallouk, recounts that Jean-Michel Basquiat used these pieces of wood because he didn't have the money to buy canvases and painting materials before his success!

It's also said that he was evicted from his apartment and had a falling-out with friends who were staying with him: they had discovered that their apartments had been completely transformed (the walls, fridges, etc. had all been painted!).

Basquiat, a painter of his century, suffered greatly in his life from racism and derogatory remarks, clichés from certain people, the media and the art world.

And here, Basquiat is celebrated in this unique exhibition. In just 8 years of a dazzling career, he emerged from the ghetto and the Pop or Street art movements to be recognized today as one of the greatest artists in the history of twentieth-century art!

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