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The Basquiat Foundation Dances to Its Own Tune

Straight from New York, over 200 works owned by the family arrive for an exhibition in Los Angeles.

Courtesy Alessandro Berni and Estate Basquiat Foundation

The idea of putting museums in museums, a futuristic axiom, seems to have been embraced both in intention and in practice by the Basquiat Foundation, which manages the vast family legacy of Jean-Michel Basquiat's artworks.

In contrast to traditional museum exhibitions, the Foundation has chosen to organize a retrospective that takes place in unconventional spaces, closer to influential bankers than renowned institutions. This decision has dealt a blow to the world of traditional operators and historic gallerists. The Basquiat Foundation has decided to dance to its own rhythm, creating a new paradigm and breaking conventions.

Lisane Basquiat and Jeanine Heriveaux, the late artist's younger sisters who have managed his legacy since their father's death in 2013, have curated and executive produced the travelling exhibition. In New York, it was hosted at the Landmark Starrett-Lehigh Building, while in Los Angeles, it has landed downtown, at the Grand LA building, currently on display until July 31, 2023.

Courtesy Alessandro Berni and Estate Basquiat Foundation

The Basquiat family has chosen top-notch spaces for this operation where over 200 works of art and vintage objects are presented and consumed.

The retrospective is titled "King Pleasure," which is not only the name of a painting created by Jean-Michel in 1987, but also the stage name of a bebop-loving bartender turned jazz singer. His first hit, "Moody's Mood For Love," in 1952 catapulted him to fame. The song was a favorite of WBLS DJ Frankie Crocker, who played it at the end of his show every night in the 1970s. Gerard Basquiat, Jean-Michel's father, also loved this melody.

The exhibition is organized in a non-linear manner. Visitors are immediately greeted by Basquiat's map of New York, his sketches, and drawings from his unaware childhood and teenage years, leading the viewer into his Brooklyn apartment. It was suggested in the exhibition's title that his space was mainly functional and that music was seemingly his only luxury.

Courtesy Alessandro Berni and Estate Basquiat Foundation

As visitors reach the reconstruction of the studio at 57 Great Jones Street, they may sense a depiction that overlooks the artist's dissolute life, distracting from the speculative question of why the exhibition is not in a museum. The echo of Basquiat's staggering number of early works begins to take precedence, occupying the minds of both long-time and newly acquired Basquiat enthusiasts.

The exhibition reminds us that Basquiat's works' roaring anger and visceral strength have not diminished as his themes and commentary continue to resonate within our society. Themes in which include the consequences of colonialism and the complex dynamics of post-colonialism, exploring the identity and history of people of African descent. It also sheds light on the "dark medal" of capitalism, revealing the inequalities, greed, and shallowness present in the city and environments where Basquiat lived. Additionally, it addresses the violence and brutality of the police towards African-American individuals. Alongside these societal aspects, there are personal themes of identity and race. Basquiat never allowed a society marked by racism and discrimination to diminish his drive as a painter and goal to make an imprint on the art world.

Courtesy Alessandro Berni and Estate Basquiat Foundation

The maternal curation, although overly protective, and the non-linear organization of the exhibition still create an intriguing journey that allows the audience to fully immerse themselves in Basquiat's universe. The visual and emotional experience offered by the "King Pleasure" exhibition leaves a lasting impression, highlighting the enduring influence of the artist and the relevance of his themes in the current context.

In conclusion, "King Pleasure" proves to be a captivating endeavor that leaves both enthusiasts and industry professionals satisfied. However, there remains an underlying question that many will undoubtedly ponder, regardless of where it is raised: will there be more discussion about the market value of the artworks rather than the artworks themselves?


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