Here Are the First Real Details of the Monumental 2022 NYC Basquiat Exhibit

Jean-Michel Basquiat, Jailbirds, 1983.
© The Estate of Jean-Michel Basquiat

If you’d had the privilege of witnessing the exhibition pithily titled Basquiat at the Brooklyn Museum in 2005, you might have to come to the same conclusion as did we: that Jean-Michel Basquiat was arguably his generation’s Picasso. Even though surely nothing could ever best actually seeing his works in situ (say, on a wall in SoHo in 1981), it felt as if that show had at last given him the proper canonization, and entered him definitively into the art historical pantheon.

Since then, his works have sold for astronomical amounts, with his Untitled fetching a record $110 million at a Sotheby’s auction in 2017. And with sixteen years having passed since Brooklyn, it would certainly seem a reasonable time to undertake another thorough overview of his short but astonishing career – which was cut short by a heroin overdose in 1988, aged just 27. And that is precisely what will transpire in the spring of 2022, when an exhibition titled Jean-Michel Basquiat: King Pleasure© is unveiled at New York’s Starrett-Lehigh Building in West Chelsea.

Though buzz has been swirling around about it, significant details have just now been released. It’s set to open April 9, and most intriguingly, exalted Ghanian-British architect Sir David Frank Adjaye OBE will be acting as the exhibition designer, creating the mise-en-scène for the more than 200 paintings, drawings, artifacts and multimedia works that will be on show, some of which have never been seen before. It promises to be an exhilarating survey of the scope of Jean-Michel’s breathtaking talent and incisive messaging.

Jean-Michel Basquiat, Untitled (World Famous Vol. 1. Thesis), 1983.
© The Estate of Jean-Michel Basquiat

Adjaye enthuses, “The vision for this project – to reclaim the narrative of Basquiat’s life and work and to shed new light on an artist that is only partially understood – aligns deeply with my studio’s mission of using design as a storytelling device. I envision the exhibition as an intimate narrative journey, that not only displays his trailblazing career, but cultivates his spirit and mission through the eyes and insights of his own family.”

But the essential uniqueness of the presentation will very much come by way of its organization, as it will not be the end product of some collection of detached museum curators. Rather, it is being arranged by his family, or more specifically sisters Lisane Basquiat and Jeanine Heriveaux, along with their stepmother Nora Fitzpatrick. The three currently act as the overseers of The Estate of Jean-Michel Basquiat.

Smartly, it will also be divided into seven distinct “themes”: 1960 – Introduction, with several of his best self-portraits on display; Kings County, which looks back at his childhood in Brooklyn and Puerto Rico, including early drawings and sculptures; World Famous, focusing on the LA, NYC, and Documenta 7 exhibitions that first rocketed him to fame; Ideal, a recreation of his Great Jones Street studio; Art Gallery, an exhibit within an exhibit with nearly 100 paintings and drawings; Palladium, a “return” to the legendary New York nightclub for which he contributed a pair of iconic works; and Place Jean-Michel Basquiat, an oral history as told by his close family and friends.

“This exhibition showcasing the man behind the icon has been years in the making,” sister Jeanine reveals, “from the initial idea in 2017 around the 30th anniversary of Jean-Michel’s passing to now. There’s been many exhibitions of Jean-Michel’s work, but never told from the perspective of the family – Jean-Michel as a child, a man, a son, and a brother. As we were all in lockdown, we said: ‘Maybe now is the right time.’” 

But the exhibit will also surely resonate with a socio-political urgency, as racial tensions in America have been simmering since the murder of George Floyd last May. Basquiat’s work, of course, was rife with coded messages on Black identity and oppression, ultimately paving the way for the likes of Kara Walker, Laylah Ali, Theaster Gates and likely many others still to come.

“We wanted to bring his work and personality forward, in a way only his family can,” sister Lisane explains, “for people to immerse themselves in. We want this to be a multi-dimensional celebration of Jean-Michel’s life.”

With major retrospectives on Yayoi Kusama, Banksy and now Basquiat, New York has been clawing back from the COVID crisis with serious cultural heft. The difference here, certainly, is that Jean-Michel’s legacy is very much woven into the story of New York, especially Downtown New York…if that even means anything anymore.

N.B. For regular updates on Jean-Michel Basquiat: King Pleasure©, just sign up for the email list, where the commencement of ticket sales will also be announced.

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