Profiting from the inability to get to work today, I took a brief hour at lunchtime to see the Basquiat exhibit at the Musée de l’Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris. I believe it is the first major retrospective in Paris of Basquiat’s art since his death in ’88 due to an overdose at a very young 27 years of age. I have never really been a big Basquiat fan, but wanted to get a better idea of what he was about. The exhibit spans his entire career and is mostly grouped around his major gallery expositions during his life. The imagery is typically rough but surprisingly can become delicate at times. The material is apparently whatever he could get his hands on: canvases stapled to doors, cabinets, pallets…He had a symbolic dictionary with crowns, big teethy smiles and grimaces, everything in a very graffiti-esque style. There were lots of pieces pertaining to slavery – I particularly enjoyed the Revised and originals of Undiscovered Talent (now I wish I had purchased the catalog ‘cos I can’t remember the actual name. Argh.) My favorite pieces were the Discography and Now’s the Time – three homages to the legendary Bird-Miles sessions when the song Now’s the Time was recorded in the 40’s. I especially loved the pallet cut in a roundish circle and the PRKR in the middle. Quite effective and even moving.
I am not sure I am a converted fan now but I can better understand or perhaps at least appreciate his work. I think the stuff I prefer is the doodling massive works like the one at the end. I find it always disturbing how some folks (Corbain, Jeff Buckley) prophecy their passing at such young ages. In the exhibit are the pieces Eroica #1 and #2 (references to Beethoven if I recall) which both foretell of his overdose.
If you are in the City, the exhibit is quite worth your time and will in any case provoke lots of thought and conversation at least in your own head. Probably that’s what Jean-Baptiste had in mind.