In a grainy home movie from 1968—long before he had set out on the path to art world fame and early death—8-year-old Jean-Michel Basquiat dressed smartly in long shorts and a button-up shirt. , gently leads his one-year-old sister, Jeanine, by the hand in Prospect Park, Brooklyn, with his 4-year-old sister, Lisane, frolicking in the grass beside them.
Those sisters, now 54 and 57, have spent the last five years poring over their brother’s paintings, drawings, photographs, VHS movies, African sculpture collection, toys and memorabilia to curate an exhibition. sweeping account of his life and work that opens Saturday at the Starrett. -Lehigh Building in Chelsea.
The show, “Jean-Michel Basquiat: King Pleasure,” features more than 200 works of art and artifacts from the artist’s estate, 177 of which have never before been displayed, in a 15,000-square-foot space designed by architect David Adjaye . . Providing perhaps the most detailed personal portrait to date of Basquiat’s development, the show comes at a time when the artist’s market value continues to rise and issues of race and his own identity have become especially resonant. (The mayor’s office will proclaim the program’s opening Saturday as Jean-Michel Basquiat Day.)
“They’re literally opening the vaults,” said Brett Gorvy, a dealer and former president and international director of postwar and contemporary art at Christie’s. “These are paintings that I have only seen in books.”
The 41-foot-wide “Nu Nile,” for example, one of two enormous paintings Basquiat did for the Palladium nightclub in 1985, would likely fetch millions at auction.
While nothing in the show is for sale, collectors will have a chance to sample the market for Basquiat’s art next month when his 1982 painting “Untitled (Devil)” goes up for auction at Phillips with an estimated price of $ 70 million. In 2017, his vibrant skull painting from the same year fetched $110.5 million at Sotheby’s, becoming the sixth most expensive work ever sold at auction and joining a rarefied group of works to surpass the $100 million mark. Dollars.
And Basquiat exhibits continue to flourish. On Monday, the Nahmad Contemporary gallery in Manhattan opens “Jean-Michel Basquiat: Art and Objecthood,” which looks at the artist’s unconventional materials (doors, refrigerators, football helmets), curated by Basquiat scholar Dieter Buchhart. The Broad Museum in Los Angeles currently displays all 13 Basquiats in his collection. And in February, the Orlando Museum of Art opened a show of 25 works by Basquiat, though its authenticity has been questioned.
Like an immersive journey into the making of Basquiat, the Starrett-Lehigh exhibition is an undertaking of a different order. In addition to featuring rough sketches, doodles, and scribbled notes by an artist finding her voice, the show feels like a family scrapbook come to life, packed with intimate artifacts: Basquiat’s birth announcement (6 lbs., 10 oz. ); a school report card from when he lived in Puerto Rico; his blue-green crockery; his trademark Comme Des Garçons trench coat.
“Conventional museum display tends to isolate the artwork from real life, and they did just the opposite,” said dealer Jeffrey Deitch, who delivered the eulogy when Basquiat died of a heroin overdose at age 27 in 1988. “Jean-Michel’s life story and family history is fully integrated with the presentation of the artworks, and it gives you a deeper insight into how the work was created, how it was inspired.”
“It’s not a professional academic presentation, but that’s what’s so new,” Deitch added. “They have created a new paradigm of how to create an art exhibition.”
Set to a soundtrack of music heard by the artist: Diana Ross’s rendition of “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough”; The Carpenters’ “(They Long to Be) Near You”: The show has recreated Basquiat’s important physical spaces: his family’s dining room on Boerum Hill (with the original wooden grocer and fish platter); his painting studio at 57 Great Jones Street (with stacks of his books, a couple of his wine glasses); the Palladium’s Michael Todd VIP Room, complete with mirrors, draped beads and chandeliers, where Basquiat spent many nights.
“We wanted people to come and have the experience of Jean-Michel: the human being, the son, the brother, the cousin,” said Jeanine Heriveaux, in a recent interview with her sister at Starrett-Lehigh. “To guide people through that in a way that feels right and good to us.”
The women, who run the estate with their stepmother, Nora Fitzpatrick, acted as curators and executive producers of the show, from the songs played over the speakers in the Todd Room to the text on the wall, motivated by a desire to bring all this together. material in one place, and flesh out the image of his brother that has often been mythologized. “For 33 years we have been constantly asked for more information, more from Jean-Michel, more Jean-Michel, from art collectors to children,” said Lisane Basquiat. “This is our way of responding to that.”
Earnings also seem to be a clear part of this. The show requires a timed entrance fee: $45 for adults on weekends, $65 to skip the line (less for students, seniors, and weekdays). And a “King Pleasure Emporium” offers Basquiat-inspired sportswear, leather goods, stationery, pet accessories and housewares, as well as the show’s accompanying $55 book, published by Rizzoli Electa.
Some lifelong Basquiatphiles have no problem with the commercial component. “It’s wonderful that art products with the images of Jean-Michel Basquiat are available to people who don’t have the resources to buy a super expensive drawing or painting,” said Deitch.
“I like the art to come out,” he continued, adding that it could allow the family “to earn income through licensing without having to sell the art.”
Although spearheaded by the sisters, the exhibition has been a complete family affair. Fitzpatrick co-authored the book with Lisane and Jeanine. Jeanine’s daughter Sophia came up with the show’s name, inspired by the title of a 1987 Basquiat painting (which features the artist’s recurring crown motif), and the jazz vocalist whose 1952 hit, “Moody’s Mood for Love” was one of Basquiat’s favorites. father, Gerard.
“Everyone in the family has pitched in, one way or another,” Lisane said. “It’s a way of uniting our lineage and documenting what has happened so far through Jean-Michel. We lost a brother 33 years ago and our parents lost a son. This project has been an opportunity for us. It’s been cathartic.”
The show is organized into themes, beginning with 1960, the year Basquiat was born, and “Kings County,” which describes the artist’s childhood in Brooklyn and Puerto Rico. An annotated map of New York City locates places of importance in Basquiat’s life: Chock Full o’ Nuts where his mother liked her coffee; Pearl Paint, where he bought art supplies; Sheepshead Bay Piers, where his family went to eat clams.
There is also a series of oral history videos with friends and family, such as Reuben Andrades, a cousin, who talks about how Basquiat used to draw figures he called “The Frizzies” who were like Smurfs with social positions (“firemen, policemen” ).
In a video, Jeanine describes how her brother convinced her to jump out of a closet with an umbrella and try to fly like Mary Poppins. (“It didn’t work.”) In another, Lisane recalls how Jean-Michel suggested while visiting a friend in a suburban backyard that they all sing “I’m Black and I’m proud” at the top of their lungs (“I’m Black and I’m proud” at the top of my lungs (“I’m Black and I’m proud”) until an adult came and told us to shorten it”).
The only non-Basquiat works in the show are silk-screened family portraits by Warhol, who was a close friend of the artist.
Childhood home movies foreshadow the sartorial elegance that became Basquiat’s hallmark as an adult: There he is in a skin-tight bathrobe, navy blue cap, and suspenders.
The shock of a life snuffed out too soon pervades the show, demonstrating the Basquiat charm that has captivated aspiring painters, graffiti artists, museum curators and wealthy collectors. “He’s an artist who epitomizes much of the 20th century — Picasso, Rauschenberg, Twombly — but he’s also influential to a new generation of artists,” gallery owner Joe Nahmad said. “He takes you into the future, into what is happening today.”
The sisters’ show can sometimes feel like hagiography; there is little discussion of Basquiat’s demons or the aspects of her home life that may have been difficult. According to Phoebe Hoban’s 1998 biography “Basquiat: A Quick Killing in Art,” the artist said in an interview: “‘When I was a child, my mother beat me severely for having my underwear inside out, which to her meant that he was gay. .’”
“He told his girlfriends and art dealers that his father had brutally beaten him as a child,” Hoban continues. “Gerard Basquiat adamantly denies doing anything more than whipping his son with a belt.”
The catalog occasionally touches on the darker aspects of Basquiat’s story, describing how his parents, Gerard, a Haitian immigrant, and Matilde, a Brooklyn-born artist of Puerto Rican descent, parted ways. How Gerard (who died in 2013) raised his three children and, at times, struggled to reconcile his ideas of success with his son’s less conventional goals.
“Jean-Michel was committed to being an artist, and my father’s fears for him (not having a stable and secure life) manifested as anger and frustration,” Lisane writes in the catalogue. “Jean-Michel ran away a couple of times. One day he was there, and then one day he wasn’t there, there was really no discussion about it. Jean-Michel was never going to fit my father’s vision of his life.”
Lisane added in a statement Friday that “we grew up in the 1960s when spanking was a common form of disciplinary action. That doesn’t overshadow the incredible passion and commitment they showed to the three of us. Our parents loved us. They weren’t always right. but they put their heart and soul into helping us become the best we could be.”
The sisters said they acknowledge that the show represents their version of events. They are not academics or curators. They set out to tell the story of the loving, mischievous and creative young man they grew up with who became a great artist.
“Jean-Michel is and has always been fire. Fire,” Lisane writes. “He was Jeanine’s and my older brother, protector, boisterous and pioneer, who paved the way for so much. Jean-Michel was a great energy coming into this world.”