Will New York City Host the Most Important Basquiat Exhibition Ever?

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 his arguably 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.

More than 200 paintings, drawings, artifacts and multimedia works will be exhibited, some of which have never been seen before – which will surely make for an exhilarating survey of the scope of his breathtaking talent and incisive messaging. But the essential uniqueness of the presentation will come by way of its organization, as it will not be the product of some collection of detached museum curators, but rather 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.

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

“This exhibition showcasing the man behind the icon has been years in the making,” 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.’” 

The announcement of such an epochal event comes at a crucial moment, as the New York art world attempts to struggle back after the cultural deprivations of this long pandemic, with museums and galleries hit particularly hard by the shutdowns. Big news such as this will surely help to regenerate the lost energy.

But the exhibition will also 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, 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,” Lisane explains, “for people to immerse themselves in. We want this to be a multi-dimensional celebration of Jean-Michel’s life.”

Specific details have yet to be forwarded – but those signing up for the email list will receive updates and be notified first when the tickets go on sale.

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