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Jean-Michel Basquiat has become legendary in the history of art. But beyond the official bio and overview of the artist there are a number of particular moments and episodes that are worth exploring.
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Basquiat Bonus Facts

01 Basquiat on Screen

Basquiat made regular appearances on writer Glenn O’Brien’s anarchic public access TV show TV Party. The show was a showcase for bands, artists and scenesters from downtown New York in the late 1970s, produced on a shoestring. Many figures from the worlds of music and film who became well-known in the 1980s were featured as guests.

In Basquiat’s first appearance in 1979 he appeared as SAMO, discussing the graffiti that had begun to appear all over the city. Basquiat also appeared in O’Brien’s 1981 film Downtown 81, playing a character that was a thinly veiled version of himself.

02 Jim Jarmusch and Basquiat

Basquiat and movie director Jim Jarmusch were close during the artist’s life, living and working in the same downtown environment. Basquiat would often stay with him whilst homeless or at a loose end, and Jarmusch remembers that whilst filming his first feature film, Permanent Vacation, he would have to drag Basquiat around in his sleeping bag to ensure that he was not visible in the shot. Jarmusch has spoke publicly about their close relationship several times, and been somewhat critical of the nostalgia and capitalisation of others on often tenuous connections to Basquiat.

03 Gray

Basquiat formed the band Gray in 1979 with performance artist Michael Holman. They were named after Gray’s Anatomy, the anatomical textbook which had influenced Basquiat’s visual art since childhood. The band had an industrial sound, built around ambient electronic soundscapes, found sound and looped vocals. At the height of the New Wave movement that included Blondie and Talking Heads in the late 1970s and early 1980s they played at several historic venues, including CBGBs, The Mudd Club and Hurrah’s.

Other members of Gray included Nicholas Taylor, Justin Thyme (also known as Wayne Clifford), Shannon Dawson and the actor Vincent Gallo. Basquiat left the band in 1981 after deciding that he did not want to maintain a career as both a musician and a painter. For the band’s final performance at the Mudd Club, they designed a large set from scaffolding, lumber and assorted trash.

After Basquiat’s death several members of the band reformed to play at his memorial, and they also reconvened to recreate their Mudd Club gig for Julien Schnabel’s 1996 film Basquiat. The band enjoyed this process so much that several of the original members recorded their first album, ‘Shades Of [Gray]’ and began performing live again in 2010.

04 Art World Recognition

Basquiat was the youngest artist to appear in the prestigious Documenta art festival in Kassel, Germany. Director Rudi Fuchs included his work in Documenta VII in 1982, when Basquiat was only 21 years old. The recognition of his talent and importance was not universal though, particularly in the US. Both the Museum of Modern Art and the Whitney Museum rejected his work during the 1980s, although pieces are now in the collections of both museums. It was his friendship and collaboration with Andy Warhol that brought him to the attention of many of these major institutions, reinforcing his perception of institutional racism and art-world insularity.

05 Basquiat as Hip-Hop Producer

Basquiat produced a single, ‘Beat Bop’, featuring hip-hop artists Rammellzee and K-Rob in 1983. The single featured Basquiat’s artwork on the cover and was only a limited release, meaning that it is highly sought after by record collectors and fans of the artist’s work.

06 Basquiat and Fashion

In 1987, Basquiat modelled on the runway for Comme des Garçons alongside actor Dennis Hopper, to the surprise of the fashion world. At the height of his fame, this walk down the runway at the request of designer Rei Kawakubo reflected the influence that Basquiat had on the world of fashion. After reaching celebrity status Basquiat regularly wore high-fashion clothing from brands including Comme des Garçons and Armani, alongside Adidas sneakers and other street clothing. This relaxed look, mixing couture and the street, became a touchstone for many artists and celebrities of the era.

07 Basquiat (1996)

Artist and contemporary Julien Schnabel directed a biopic of Basquiat in 1996, titled simply Basquiat. Jeffery Wright played the artist, alongside David Bowie as Andy Warhol and several other well-known actors (such as Benicio Del Toro, Gary Oldman and Sam Rockwell). There is some controversy around the film, however. Several of Basquiat’s friends and contemporaries have suggested that it misrepresents him as a person, overly mythologising his life and early death. Jarmusch, for example, refused to speak to Schnabel about Basquiat during research for the film. He claims to have never seen (and will never see) the film on the basis that Schnabel was never close to Basquiat and ‘Jean-Michel was not a fan of Schnabel as a person back then’. Basquiat’s estate refused Schnabel permission to use images of his artworks in the film, and so Schnabel himself painted the reproductions used on screen.

08 Breaking Records

In the years following his death, the value of Basquiat’s work has increased massively, a trend which has continued into the 21st century. In 2017, Basquiat’s painting Untitled (1982) was sold to Japanese art collector Yusaku Maezawa for a $110.5 million, which broke the record price for any Basquiat work and set a new record for an American artist at auction. Maezawa, who had also purchased other work by Basquiat, announced that he intended to display the piece in a museum he was planning in his hometown of Chiba.

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Content compiled and written by Bonnie Rosenberg

Edited and revised, with Summary and Accomplishments added by Lewis Church

Plus Page written by Lewis Church

"Jean-Michel Basquiat Artist Overview and Analysis". [Internet]. . TheArtStory.org
Content compiled and written by Bonnie Rosenberg
Edited and revised, with Summary and Accomplishments added by Lewis Church
Plus Page written by Lewis Church
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First published on 22 Nov 2011. Updated and modified regularly
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