Basquiat: Boom For Real – A 360 Exhibition Tour


I’ve got to admit to feeling a little
bit emotional when I first came in here And you must with seeing it complete? Yeah, absolutely I mean it’s a project we’ve
been working on for nearly three years now and actually in the setup of it as a project we had all of these
scale one paper cutouts of all of the works and we felt like we had this
vision of what the show would look like and of course we’d produce the book so
we had all of these images and we had some real sense of the work but the
minute they all physically came into the space it was really a very different
kind of experience and it’s actually a reminder that many of the pieces I
mean, Piscine, Jack Johnson, lots of the works we’re seeing around us are sculptural as
much as they are paintings and as such they have this amazing physical presence
in the space I’m fascinated by the idea of the epigenetic inheritance this idea of memory that transfers over generations I think particularly across generations
who’ve experienced trauma so Holocaust survivors who pass on to their children
this kind of sense of trauma which often becomes inverted into incredible
creative gifts but sometimes into different forms of mental illness and
one recognizes in some of this work the way in which for peoples of African
descent there’s a sort of parallel experience of slavery of colonialism of
racism somehow having an impact on generations and and I think I often feel
that this work is a kind of map of some of that Definitely, and I think one of
the things that’s fascinating is how much he read biographies I think he was
really an autobiographies particularly I think it was really interested in how
individuals then narrated their own life experience of exactly those kinds of
conditions how they faced racism how they dealt with it and also how society
conditioned their reception so you know we have a great piece like Jack Johnson
about the world heavyweight champion brilliant in this kind of graphic
simplicity but we also know that Jack Johnson was somebody who faced
considerable backlash from the press because he tended to date white women
equally you have a piece like Jesse over here about the great track and
field athlete Jesse Owens and there are these tiny little details like the word
pecho which is Spanish for chest and Jesse Owens when he was a child had a
fibrous lump removed from his chest because his mother couldn’t afford
medical treatment and this kind of formative part of his narrative which is
written about in the autobiography is then written on the canvas to give some
sense that Basquiat is really familiar with the personal struggles they have gone
through to get to where they are but also of what they represent in terms of
these wider narratives as you say So this is Ishtar named after the ancient
Egyptian god of fertility you have that sense of real fecundity in the color of
this work as well as of course lots of references to ancient Egypt but also to
the representation of Egypt within the Bible so ‘temple’ for instance gives us of
course to Egypt but also takes us to Samson and the destruction of the temple
and we have that reference again in Revelations and in Kings and even
‘in side view of an oxen’s jaw’ you know over here on the
other side of the space we have ‘Jawbone of an Ass’ The title taken from Samson –
‘with the jawbone of an ass have I slain a thousand men’ – so we often have these
words that at first seem almost as if they’re kind of Basquiat’s wordplay and
actually when we spend a little time with them we realize why they’re so evocative because we’re already familiar with them somehow But it’s also wonderful the way
in which he uses that sort of familiar sort of graffiti style
and it’s like he understands all of that history but he wants to impose upon all
of the things that I guess most people love and value in the way of order he’s
going to inscribe upon it this new history, the new re-rendering of the way
in which we see the world and he paints these
glorious colors that for anyone who’s traveled in Africa will recognize them
from the buildings from the flags and it just imposes his history upon a kind of
traditional Western history Absolutely. And you have this at the heart of this
triptych which was actually made we know that he hinged these so they could fit
out the elevator of his building but in the heart of this we have this punching
fist and of course he makes lots of these cartoon references and you’ve got
the stars and motion arrows around it and the thunderbolt but it also of
course gives us the raised fist of Tommie Smith at the Mexico Games in 1968
the Black Power movement the sense of everything that it takes to raise one’s
fist and to break through So this is Leonardo da Vinci’s Greatest Hits
very playful title of course he was working off his copy of Leonardo which
we have in one of the showcases and one of the things I love about this is that
sort of sense of tricksterism, that sense of taking this quite, you know,
very illustrious figure and reworking him in the way that Basquiat wants to so
we have the studies of human leg plus the bone of the man the leg in man and
dog which of course is one of Leonardo’s famous drawings but there are also great
nods to Leonardo so we have the word ‘calves’ written here and then above it
says ‘sevlac’ which is ‘calves’ written backwards in a nod to Leonardo’s mirror
writing so there are lots of kind of in-references within the work to his
knowledge of Leonardo But also this sort of cheekiness as well, of Prometheus this idea of you know stealing his kind of his genius from the gods and that he’s
prepared to look back at these really great artistic giants Absolutely and famously
Prometheus when he steals the fire for the people is struck down by the Titans
with the thunderbolt so there are all of these little references scattered a
possible across the piece So in this piece you feel somehow like he’s
referencing all of art history and yet he’s condensing, distilling it
down into something that feels uniquely his own It’s such a privilege to see all
of this work together and it makes a kind of sense not just of the man but
also of a period of art history and you’ve just got to come and see it! It’s such a privilege to be in this space with this work It is an honour It’s a once in a lifetime opportunity

20 thoughts on “Basquiat: Boom For Real – A 360 Exhibition Tour

  1. as you point out Gus it is such a privilege to be in the presence of the work but you need to remember that we can't all afford this privilege…we can't all afford the time and money to get to London and have only this brief fuzzy film offering from the Barbican to stand in the place of the actual experience…fortunately "The Art Channel" have made a high quality albeit, short film study of the show but you at the Barbican need to ask yourselves what it is that you offer to those who cannot afford to get there like you privileged London elites… why is it that you don't make a high quality film of the show and present it on youtube for those of us who can't get there…is it that you can't be bothered or do you feel we should all pay for the experience…in response i would say that i would be happy to pay a modest price for a high quality film of the show with an in depth study of why and how it was curated etc but i would also point out that such a film would dramatically promote the show and increase attendances, raising your financial income and would not undermine numbers coming for the real experience….its just a question of whether you feel that the cultural experience you offer at the Barbican is for the wealthy elite or for everyone who loves art…

  2. Wonderful paintings and a beautiful show. I think Mr. Casely-Hayford is using "epigenetics" incorrectly, and I also think it is pure speculation that somehow, previous experiences of ancestors are passed on via genetics. How about just accepting these works as they are and not try to dissect them.

  3. I appreciate that at the heart of the matter it is business…but a film that can convey the essence of the show will only add to the footfall who wish to have the actual experience of being in the presence of the paintings…but we all have a responsibility to educate and develop our cultural comprehension and awareness especially in the arts…imagine if football was only available to those who could afford the tickets to attend in person….a huge proportion of those who love football would feel shut out…no one who runs a football club complains about or tries to prevent fans from accessing football through many other outlets which has massively increased their revenues….i think it is the same for arts…major galleries make meagre efforts to communicate beyond those who can afford to attend…so the experience/understanding/cultural awareness of great art becomes restricted to only those who have the wealth of time and money to go in person…like those who love football i would be happy to pay a reasonable amount for the second hand experience of a film or documentary and would consider it better than nothing which is what there is now…i think the failure to consider the importance of conveying culture to those who are less well off to be elitist….this show is not in a museum next to me and not all football fans live next door to a football stadium…nearly all our cultural centres are in London or major cities or far away like St Ives….it seems absurd anyway in this age of the internet for so many people to be making so many journeys increasing pollution and clogging up the already creaking transport infrastructure…

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