The explosive energy of the wild, gritty and downright dangerous world of New York in the 1980s comes to London this month in an all-encompassing exhibition of the work by urban pioneer, Jean-Michel Basquiat. More than 100 works produced during the artist’s short life have been brought together for Boom for Real at Barbican Art Gallery, which opened 21 September and runs through 28 January of next year.
The expansive works have been gleaned from international museums and private collections across the globe, presenting a cohesive insight into the bright and eclectic mind of Basquiat, whose signature mash up of energetic brushstrokes and street poetry won the hearts of the art world nearly 40 years ago.
Now an art history icon, it’s easy to forget that Basquiat was just a young man when his star began to rise. At 20 (when most of us were struggling with making it to university class on time), he showed at the esteemed Times Square Show, befriended Andy Warhol, starred in Glenn O’Brien’s cult classic film Downtown 81, played The Mudd Club with his band Gray, and began working on his first solo exhibition with Annina Nosei Gallery.
By 23, he’d already painted collaborative works with Warhol, began showing with star gallerist Larry Gagosian, starred in Blondie’s Rapture video, and dated Madonna. During his short life, Basquiat enjoyed the attention and success of a glittering art star; but after his death at 27, his star continued to rise, and continues to smash through his own records year after year. Most recently an Untitled piece from 1982 sold for a whopping $110,487,500- the most expensive American artwork in history.
Part of Basquiat’s universal appeal is his mesh of history, and street style, which captured his own philosophy as well as the spirit of a tumultuous time in New York that is often romanticized in the art world. His brilliant way of mixing contrasting ideas in his artwork, like poverty versus wealth, or segregation versus integration, made for an impactful and powerful style that rose from the original graffiti movement.
This massive collection of Basquiat’s works, hung together for the first time, is a rare treat to thoroughly experience the artist’s incredible oeuvre- especially because the exhibition is rounded out by rare film, photography and archive material. Boom for Real is a not to miss- and will likely book up quickly, so reserve tickets now.