Recently, the exhibition Jean-Michel Basquiat: Now’s the Time came to an end in Guggenheim Bilbao. It has been one of the most important exhibitions ever devoted to this American artist who started painting in the streets and the first thematic examination of his output.
Though Basquiat was only active for a brief period in the 1980s, he produced one of the most remarkable bodies of work of the 20th century, with a formal and conceptual appeal that continues to fascinate audiences today. He combined images and texts in a unique style—mixing hieroglyphics and comics, high and low culture—to present a revealing vision of the world tinged with pain.
Basquiat’s creations are manifestos that denounce inequality, racism, prejudice, and discrimination and defend the values of freedom, dignity, and respect. His art is steeped in music and poetry, harmoniously combining elements of everyday life with classic works of art, literature and music, anatomical drawings, and references to the world of sports, history (especially Afro-American history), life and death.
As an artist, he immersed himself in high art and graffiti, jazz and rap, punk and pop culture, anatomy textbooks and comics, and then channeled this complexity into sophisticated, layered works that presaged today’s internet culture. All these features are found in the approximately one hundred works shown in the exhibition. These are organised around the themes that inspired the artists. Though Basquiat soon left the conceptual graffiti of his early days behind to exhibit in art galleries, his paintings use the language and symbols of the street, creating images that honor black men as kings and saints.
Amazingly, some of the works address events unfolding today in the United States. Like the signs recently carried by protesters in Ferguson, Missouri, and across North America, Basquiat’s works insist that black lives matter. The artist dealt with racism and social hypocrisy on a daily basis, channeling these experiences into powerful paintings.
Also you could find an impressive selection of works produced by Basquiat in collaboration with Andy Warhol, Francesco Clemente, Keith Haring, and Kenny Scharf. No doubt, my favorite exhibition (so far) this year!