[Many thanks to Peter Jordens for bringing this item to our attention.] In “Paying Their Respects: Volunteers Clean Basquiat’s Grave 30 Years after His Death,” Sal Bono (CBS Inside Edition, 11 August 2018) writes about the anniversary of Jean-Michel Basquiat’s death on August 12, 1988.
When artist Jean-Michel Basquiat passed away inside his Manhattan loft of a heroin overdose at the age of 27 on Aug. 12, 1988, the world mourned. Thirty years after his passing, he is far from forgotten. Basquiat is now celebrated in music, fashion, film and modern art. And every year, a group of volunteers come from as far away as France to clean his grave inside Brooklyn’s massive Green-Wood Cemetery.
The pilgrimage is coordinated by Preservation Volunteers, an organization that brings people together to clean and restore graves inside Green-Wood as well as historic areas of Staten Island each summer. “It is important to be able to pay respects to people who were here long before us, and in doing so, we learn a little bit about the history,” Dexter Guerrieri, president and founder of Preservation Volunteers, told InsideEdition.com.
Basquiat was born in the Bushwick section of Brooklyn in 1960 to a Haitian father and mother of Puerto Rican descent. He rose to prominence in the 1980s as a Manhattan street artist and member of a punk band before eventually landing his work in local art galleries, where his fame skyrocketed.
Since his death, however, Basquiat has only grown more famous. “Does [his work] have relevance today? Yes, it shows he was a great artist of that time and student of that time,” art critic and historian Antwaun Sargent told InsideEdition.com. “He is a cultural touchstone.”
His simple gray grave features his name centered above the word “artist,” with the months of his birth and death below. “Whenever someone comes out to visit Green-Wood and they say, ‘Where is Jean-Michel Basquiat’s grave?’ and they find it, a lot of people are surprised it is quite small,” Neela Wickremesinghe, manager of restoration and preservation at Green-Wood, told InsideEdition.com. “He definitely warrants a larger-than-life monument, but the humbleness of its size, I think, is actually quite fitting for his art and the role that he plays in New York.”
Preservation Volunteers has been going to Green-Wood for 14 years to clean graves in need of TLC. But Basquiat’s headstone is a fairly recent addition. “We were actually the first volunteers to ever work here at Green-Wood,” Guerrieri said. “Two years ago, people were coming from France and wanted to know where was Basquiat’s grave. So, to clean it made sense.” The Preservation Volunteers director added, “I am happy to be here because it is such an impressive cemetery especially for us coming from France, where it is really different. It is such a huge space. Everything in America is huge.”
Even though Green-Wood uses volunteers to help clean graves across the 478-acre cemetery, it has a full-time staff that does the bulk of the maintenance year-round, working with products that are specifically formulated to not kill the grass and trees.
In addition to Basquiat, the cemetery is the final resting places of composer Leonard Bernstein, the Steinway piano family, infamous New York City politician William “Boss” Tweed, and Dr. Susan McKinney Steward, the third African-American woman to ever earn a medical degree. The historic cemetery, which was founded in 1838, is also the resting ground of more than 5,000 soldiers who fought in the Civil War.
Basquiat’s grave is one of the cemetery’s “most visited sites,” Wickremesinghe said. Fans leave pens, pencils, stones, markers, paintbrushes and notes, and even scrawl his signature three-prong crown on the headstone. The grave is so popular that security checks on it every weekend. [. . .]