In his seminal article ‘The Radiant Child’, René Ricard spoke out on behalf of the new, and introduced the world to the work of Jean Michel Basquiat, saying: “No one wants to be part of a generation that ignores another van Gogh.” While in the mid-90s Julian Schnabel claimed that Basquiat was ahead of his time (“his audience hasn’t even been born yet” – reflexively echoing Nietzche’s ‘some are borne posthumously’), the fête-ing of Basquiat’s work by the art world has long-since reached fever pitch.
In a new major retrospective of Basquiat’s work, the Art Gallery of Ontario is about to unveil “Basquiat: Now’s The Time”. Open to the public from February 7th through to May 10th, the exhibition includes dozens of major works, including: “Eroica”, “Irony of a Negro Policeman”, and “A Panel of Experts”, as well as collaborative paintings with Warhol, early videos of JMB tagging and rapping with Rammellzee, and other ephemera.
As Proust waxes rhapsodic on the joys of a Madeline, so, too, does the work of JMB evoke a certain sense memory to contemporary generations. It’s odd to think of an artist from the 1980’s as a cultural forebear, particularly if he dated Madonna and palled around with Andy Warhol, but that’s precisely what the Titanic of Tompkins Square Park is. The contemporary certainty that life is an image, the rise of Instagram, the notion that one’s inner curator bears witness to the joys and plights of a society; all these can be traced to Basquiat’s work; both his ’fine art’ output, and his pre-gallery musings under the name Samo (“Safe Plush He Think”).
Given the overwhelming rise of ‘street art’ in the world’s galleries (we’re looking at you: Banksy, JR, Swoon, et al), this retrospective is a brilliant opportunity to see the true King (sorry Haring) at his finest, and perhaps just catch a glimpse of where it all began.
Year of the Boar
Busted Atlas 2
Self Portrait (Plaid), 1983
Jean-Michel Basquiat: Now’s The Time opens on February 7th and runs through May 10th at the AGO in Toronto.