Achille Bonito Oliva, Henry Geldzahler, Richard D. Marshall, Jeffrey Hoffeld, Bruno Bischofberger, Luciano Caprile, Luca Marenzi, Gaia Regazzoni, Milan, 2005.
Hardcover, d.j., 196 pp., color illustrations, 11 x 10 x 1 inches.
the monograph accompanying the Lugano exhibition retraces the entire artistic development of this legendary figure, called by some the “Jimi Hendrix of art” or the “Boy-King”, providing readers with an in-depth view of one of the preeminent figures in the Twentieth century international art scene.
The tragic victim perhaps of his own inner fire, which consumed the proudly mixed race and errant artist at the youthful age of 27, Basquiat made his entrance into the art world with graffiti work signed SAMO©, and became a protagonist of the US graffiti movement in the late Seventies alongside Keith Haring. In the early Eighties, after his participation in collective exhibitions at alternative galleries that sought to give visitors a full panorama of the current New York art and cultural scene, Basquiat was officially launched into the art world as a painter at the tender age of 21, thanks to an article written by the critic René Ricard who compared him to masters such as Cy Twombly and Jean Dubuffet.
Basquiat was one of the few emerging artists to experience not only immediate international fame but also the at times impetuous requests to exhibit his works in the most notable New York art galleries—and soon thereafter, all over the world. Intelligent, curious and full of a lust for life, Basquiat broke with tradition and blazoned his cruel truths about the true perils of modern life: money, drugs, sex, adulation, oppression and racism. The rebel artist incorporated a great variety of elements into his work, from symbols of mass culture, jazz legends and famous black sports heroes and musicians to the skeletons and skulls evoking his fascination with death.
His creations are a fusion of symbols, words and colors. His colors are not those of a painting on an easel created with studied art, they are the colors of life, the colors of the street, both brilliant and faded, overlaid like torn posters that don’t hide what lies beneath.
The chronological presentation of the selected works includes some fifty paintings, twenty drawings, collaborations done with Andy Warhol and Francesco Clemente, and canvases commissioned by Bruno Bischofberger of Zurich, Basquiat’s exclusive European representative. Basquiat would establish a fundamental bond with Warhol, and the death of the master of Pop Art in 1987 would leave a great void in his life.
The catalogue concludes with previously unpublished photographs by the noted Lugano film director, Edo Bertoglio. A number of these were taken during the shooting of the film “New York Beat” later renamed “Downtown 81”, in which Basquiat plays the lead role of a nineteen-year-old unknown artist trying to survive in the churning artistic and musical circles of downtown New York in the early Eighties.
Over seventy works from museums and private collections trace out the meteoric career of Jean-Michel Basquiat (1960-1988), “enfant terrible” of the art world who quickly became the symbol of the New York multiethnic culture of the Eighties.