Art Exhibition: Basquiat

On the occasion of what would have been Jean-Michel Basquiat’s fiftieth birthday, the Fondation Beyeler is devoting the first large exhibition ever held in Europe, as a tribute to this outstanding painter. Comprising over 100 works, it traces Basquiat’s unique artistic development and reflects his place in art history. Conceived as a retrospective, the exhibition also enables a rediscovery and re-evaluation of one of the most fascinating personalities in the history of recent art. “Basquiat” is on view at the Fondation Beyeler until September 5, 2010 (the exhibition opened on May 9). The Beyeler Foundation is located at Baselstrasse 101 Riehen/Basel CH-4125, Switzerland.

The foundation description states that “the art of Jean-Michel Basquiat (1960-1988) possesses the same intensity and energy that marked his brief life. The artist star died on August 12, 1988, at age 27, of a drug overdose. In the space of only eight years he had succeeded in creating an extensive oeuvre and introducing new figurative and expressive elements into contemporary art.”

Jean-Michel Basquiat was born and raised in Brooklyn, the son of a Haitian-American father and a Puerto Rican mother. At an early age, he showed a precocious talent for drawing, and his mother enrolled him as a Junior Member of the Brooklyn Museum when he was six. Basquiat first gained notoriety as a teenage graffiti poet and musician. In the late 1970s, at age 16, Basquiat began to spray aphoristic graffiti on Manhattan walls under the pseudonym of SAMO©. The sale of homemade postcards and painted T-shirts provided a source of income. At the age of twenty, he had turned from spraying graffiti on the walls of buildings in Lower Manhattan to selling paintings in SoHo galleries, rapidly becoming one of the most accomplished artists of his generation. Basquiat’s breakthrough as an artist came with his prominent participation in “New York/New Wave,” a show at the already legendary P.S. 1, which opened in February 1981 and included prestigious artists like Keith Haring and Robert Mapplethorpe. Astute collectors began buying his art, and his gallery shows sold out. Critics noted the originality of his work, its emotional depth, unique iconography, and formal strengths in color, composition, and drawing. By 1985, he was featured on the cover of The New York Times Magazine as the epitome of the hot, young artist in a booming market.

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