2 November 2017 § Leave a comment
Do not come to the latest Barbican Gallery exhibition Basquiat: Boom for Real expecting a straightforward show of Jean-Michel Basquiat’s work. This is rather more than that and all the better for it. This is an exhibition where, in the words of Jane Alison, the Barbican’s Head of Visual Arts, we can “see those works in the context of the New York scene of the 1980s.” We therefore get videos, photographs, music, film, books and paintings, where Basquiat is presented as a multidimensional artist weaving between media.
New York at that time was certainly a rich melting pot. A dangerous and violent city on the edge of bankruptcy, it housed a thriving cultural scene. Basquiat, young and black has often been pigeon-holed as a a poor outsider, who developed from homeless graffiti artist to gallery favourite. The truth is rather different.
From a relatively wealthy family, Basquiat went to a private school, was well educated and a talented artist and was admiring Renaissance masters in New York galleries in his teens. Having dropped out of college, he briefly ran away from home, stayed with friends and scrawled graffiti as ‘Samo’ (a play on ‘same old shit’), although its style was not ‘from the streets’ but always from an artist insider critiquing the contemporary art scene.
The Barbican Gallery divides the show in to some fourteen sections. From Samo graffiti we then see the beginning of his stratospheric rise in a recreation of the New York/New Wave exhibition. A landmark show where despite including the likes of Andy Warhol, Nan Goldin and Robert Mapplethorpe, the young Basquiat was singled out for admiration.
Between examples of his work we get to learn plenty about the post-punk underground art scene: The Canal Zone, a graffiti covered downtown loft/art space brought him together with collaborators for collage and postcards; the Mudd Club was where he hung out and performed with his band; at Area he hung out with Keith Haring or Madonna whilst dj-ing sets on a Brian Eno created sound system.
A key element of the exhibition is a remarkable film, Downtown 81, a chronicle of a day in the in the life of a down and out artist, for which Basquiat was chosen to play the leading role. It is essentially a prescient version of his real life as we see him spraying Samo-tagged graffiti and hawking his art (some of it in the show) around galleries as he visits clubs, watches bands and interacts with the larger than life local characters.
If so far we haven’t mentioned his art much, it is with good reason – there is not a lot here. We do see his graffiti, collages, postcards, sketches, polaroids and even his graffiti covered fridge. We also see books, records and photographs as the Barbican outlines his jazz, art and classical influences.
Where we do see his larger works – vibrant, raw imagery, abounding with fragments of bold capitalised text – they offer insights into both his encyclopaedic interests and his experience as a young black artist with no formal training. New scholarship sheds light on some of his most acclaimed works – sampling from an extraordinary breadth of source material – anatomical drawings to bebop jazz to silent film.
“Untitled” (1981), for example, includes variations of the name Aaron. While Basquiat’s father understood it to be a reference to baseball player Hank Aaron, the Barbican Gallery posits other allusions: a character in Shakespeare’s play “Titus Andronicus,” and the brother of Moses in the Old Testament. Two letters also feature individually, “A” and “O,” and relate to a passage from Revelation that fascinated Basquiat: “I am Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the end.”
The label for his 1982 painting Jawbone of an Ass, he lists historical figures including Hannibal, Machiavelli, Savonarola, Sappho and Rameses II, is a vision of world history as a ceaseless round of wars. Cartoon monsters with savage teeth express the violence of the painting’s Biblical title. In the bottom right, a black boxer hits a white opponent.
He worked surrounded by imagery: open books, pages from magazines and photographs laying around him as the TV flickered and jazz music played. He worked rapidly absorbing influences from anything and everything. Sometimes the resulting art is hard to like, at others remarkably fresh, powerful and multi-layered.
Strangely there is nothing here about his heroin addiction and untimely death at just 27, and we do not know if there were lost chances to save him from self-destruction. We are ultimately left to ponder what sort of art this talented and elemental force would have continued to produce if it were not for his tragic end.
All images © The Estate of Jean-Michel Basquiat, Licensed by Artestar, New York
5 July 2016 § Leave a comment
‘When people read erotic symbols into my paintings, they’re really talking about their own affairs’ – Georgia O’Keefe
This post also appears at www.cellophaneland.com
This is the largest exhibition Georgia O’Keeffe ever to take place outside America and the first retrospective in the UK. Given too that there are no works in any British collection this is a rare opportunity to take a close look at the work of one of the most famous of American artists.
Famed for her close up flowers, New York cityscapes and desert landscapes – with or without bleached animal bones – this is somebody has come to represent the crowning achievements of American modernism.
Her journey was a remarkable one and in the Tate’s largely chronological approach we can see her development, from Wisconsin art student, via New York and a relationship with the leading proponent of European modernism, Alfred Stieglitz, before retiring to a ranch in the arid southwest.
The show opens with an impressive reconstruction of her 1916 show at 291 in New York. A group of charcoal sketches, heavily influenced by tutor Arthur Wesley Dow and Kandinsky’s abstract and spiritual approach, were shown to Alfred Stieglitz, the gallery’s influential owner. He spotted her early promise and put the works on show.
O’Keeffe soon moved to the city, and in to a lengthy relationship with Stieglitz. She adopted the philosophies and scientific ideas of the time: theosophy, synesthesia, with the spiritual underpinning her work. She painted abstracts – one of the first Americans to work this way – with an unmistakeable erotic symbolism that Stieglitz drew on to market her in the gallery.
He added his own nude images of her and stated that as a woman she ‘painted from the womb’. O’Keefe distanced herself from this angle, said the eroticism was in the eye of the beholder and from then veered away from abstracts. Even many years later, when artists like Judy Chicago and Miriam Schapiro claimed her as an early feminist artist, which she obviously was, she sadly continued to avoid and deny this.
It was in New York too that, bored of the city, she began painting her iconic flowers. Despite stating that ‘I hate flowers—I paint them because they’re cheaper than models and they don’t move’ they are now her most recognisable works. One somehow imagines them to fill the walls, but when seen at the Tate they seem surprisingly small and less impressive than anticipated.
A 1919 trip took her to the desert, which she adored, returning frequently and eventually moving to Santa Fe from New York when Stieglitz died in 1949. There are plenty of these desert landscapes here and the influence of Emily Carr, a Canadian artist that she met, is clear to see. Carr herself was strongly influenced by another Canadian, Lawren Harris and the Group of Seven. All were concerned with the spiritual within the landscape and one wonders how strong this influence was.
In the desert she painted the colourful, arid landscapes. These are often impressive, but also sometimes they miss the bright light and sharpness you would expect – often appearing rather distant and flat. She also painted the weeds and adobe buildings and some of these stand out in the exhibition as more appealing for their simplicity and abstract forms.
She also loved the sun dried animal bones. Perhaps these represented for her the spirituality of the land but these are perhaps the least impressive works. It is all too obvious, especially when skulls are tackily suspended in space within the landscapes.
Fans of O’Keeffe are sure to love this exhibition whilst for others it may show up limitations, but this is still a show to admire. The Tate has put on a wonderful exhibition, which truly does justice to the fascinating works of a remarkable woman and a groundbreaking artist.
For more information visit www.tate.org
2 September 2010 § Leave a comment
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The New York News yesterday reported the loss of an £850k Corot painting. A intermediary supposedly lost the painting after a drunken night out. But did he? Here is the story as reported in the New York News:
The artwork’s co-owner, Kristyn Trudgeon, isn’t buying James Haggerty’s tale. “I think he’s a complete fumbling idiot,” a visibly annoyed Trudgeon said outside her West Side apartment. “He’s just a complete a–hole.” Trudgeon and Tom Doyle, who co-own the painting, had hired Haggerty, an old pal, to assist with a possible sale of “Portrait of a Girl” to London gallery owner Offer Waterman. A July 28 afternoon appointment in Doyle’s Empire State Building office fell apart when the Brit wanted a closer look at the painting.
The men agreed to meet later at midtown bistro Rue 57 with Doyle,who then ordered Haggerty to take the painting to The Mark, which is on the upper East Side, for further inspection by Waterman.[…] At 11:30 p.m., the two men left the bar, retrieved the painting and had a conversation in the hotel lobby, court papers say. “Something just didn’t feel right and I didn’t want to be involved,” Waterman said. “So I said no, and I said goodbye.”
Call me a sceptic but it is a familiar tale seen with used cars and dodgy antiques amongst others. Let me describe the familiar tale. A supposedly highly valuable object (insert any dodgy item here) is hawked around. There is little interest and there are no takers. Could it be because it quite simply is not worth it/fake/stolen (again insert appropriate alternative)? The sellers need to find a way to get their money having failed to dupe a buyer. The answer of course is a convenient theft/loss/destruction of the overpriced goods. Result – an insurance claim.
I am of course not suggesting that this is definitely the case here, as the painting has hung in an LA museum and seems to be a genuine Corot, but I look forward to seeing the result of the case and any further developments. There is also the strange question that only one of the two (or more?) owners is suing – and she is claiming from the seller and not insurance company. But there is something we are not hearing here, after all would you – even after a few bevvies – walk around downtown NY at night with something over a million dollars under your arm? No, I didn’t think so!
Having written this ready for posting I read that the co-owner, who was not prosecuting, turns out to be a convicted art thief. The case has been dropped. For the full, complex, story click here!!
- Corot Painting Suit to Be Dropped After Co-Owner Sees Mug Shot (businessweek.com)
- ‘Portrait Of A Girl’ LOST By Drunk Man: $1.3 Million Jean-Baptiste-Camille Corot Painting Lost By James Carl Haggerty (huffingtonpost.com)
- Man Claims to Have Lost $1.35 Million Painting in Drunken Bender [Mysteries] (gawker.com)
- Man sued for drunkenly losing $1.35M painting (nydailynews.com)