As I stepped into the bustling expo hall at Artexpo 2023, a crouching figure sight immediately caught my eye.
Jean-Michel Basquiat: King Pleasure, feels more like the tomb of a dead pharaoh than a gallery exhibition. The design is quasi-chronological, taking the viewer through Basquiat’s early life and sketches, to his Great Jones Studio and larger canvases. The exhibit is showing on the ground floor of the Starrett-Lehigh building and has been extended until 1/1/23. His two sisters are responsible for the exhibition. Their family and their relationship with Basquiat takes center stage.
I knew very little about Basquiat before King Pleasure. On display is his work, his toys, party photos, a report card, and even a recreation of his childhood living room. T.V’s play loops of his sister’s stories about their younger brother’s antics. The exhibition indicates a human far less eccentric than the legend; the references to the housing crisis, the boxing motifs, the bicycle he had to ride because cabs wouldn’t pick up the young black legend. Eventually, but instantly, the life of a black New Yorker started to speak to me through his work.
I wouldn’t waste too much time on blurbs while viewing King Pleasure. The beauty of the work and the intimacy of the exhibit made the writing about his art very frustrating. Background information and family stories are a welcome addition, but written descriptions of motifs were a real dopamine dump. When you look at Basquiat’s work and see monsters, apartments, police, and philosophers, a short blurb saying that a black artist was concerned with black issues doesn’t add anything. It felt like an explainer for someone who didn’t care about black issues.
The balance between a history exhibit and an art show is a fine line. Overexplaining is always a danger. The art and the artifacts speak volumes. A far reaching wordless commentary on society always smells like magic. I hope that more artists and their work can be entombed in as much context as King Pleasure does for King Basquiat.
In our chat by phone, the artist Mallory Page turns to New Orleans to ground her airy, emotional layers of color.
Miniatures and jewels steal the show at TEFAF New York Fall 2017, open until Wednesday November 1 at the Park Avenue Armory.
An appreciation of Walker’s work and craft.
Seurat’s Circus Sideshow Exhibition at the Metropolitan Museum of Art is on display now thru May 29,2017.