If The Crown Fits…

One of the most popular and acclaimed artists of the 1980’s is being honored and celebrated by his family with a stunning exhibition. Featuring 200 pieces, most never before seen (coming out of storage after 30 years), personal papers and a Great Jones Street studio recreation, the world of Jean-Michel Basquiat is brought to life in vivid production design at the Starrett-Lehigh space in Manhattan.

For the graffiti whiz who became a universal sensation, the exhibition proves that his work is as potent today as when it first garnered notice and praise.

Jean-Michel Basquiat: King Pleasure focuses on his story from those that knew him best—his family. Video interviews with his two sisters, Lisane Basquiat and Jeanine Heriveaux, are sprinkled throughout the show, sharing perspectives of growing up with Jean-Michel as their big brother.

Born in Brooklyn to a humble, loving family, his parents encouraged his artistic tendencies and provided a supportive space for him to explore his natural abilities. (one fun piece of ephemera at the exhibit is his junior membership card to The Brooklyn Museum). An astute and precocious kid, Jean-Michel absorbed his childhood surroundings and was particularly drawn to imagery from television, comic books, various forms of advertising and books of science or history, all of which would later be interpreted into statement paintings of social importance or spawning a band called Gray.

Untitled, 1984
Untitled, 1980-81

From his early days “tagging” on the lower East Side with friend Al Diaz (creating the moniker SAMO) to a chance meeting with Andy Warhol who would later become a champion of his work and close confidant, Jean-Michel soared to the apex of a heady 1980’s art world, riding the crest of dizzying prices and “artist as celebrity.”

The exhibition motif, designed by London architect Sir David Adjaye, focuses on accessibility so that young people in particular can find the artist’s life relatable. Large colored maps of Brooklyn and Manhattan highlight his various locations, whether a primary school in Brooklyn Heights or the infamous CBGB club on Manhattan’s Lower East Side. Pieces hang on warm paneled walls, giving the feeling of a basement recreation room and two domestic vignettes recreate the living and dining room of the brownstone home he grew up in.

Untitled (Ernok), 1982

Further in, the walls change to a gallery environment where a series of significant paintings are displayed and his studio space on Great Jones Street is meticulously reimagined with one side wall acting as a screen where a video is projected showing the artist at work. There are additional videos in these spaces featuring gallerists, friends or colleagues speaking about their personal relationships with Jean-Michel.

Untitled (Rinso), 1982
The Studio, Great Jones Street
Untitled, 1984

The exhibition ends in a soothing passageway draped in heavy grey curtains with a video of his sisters discussing the continuation of his estate management (their father created and administered his estate and ran it faithfully until his death in 2013) and the impact his legacy continues to have. The family clearly has a loving respect and reverence for their brother, whom they lost much too early but whose memory they are stewarding as inspiration for other artists and collectors today.

Untitled (A Very Thin Line), No Date
Jailbirds, 1983

Jean-Michel sought to expose his work to everyone and make it available for all to enjoy, whether that was tagging a downtown wall or showing at a museum. This new narrative by his sisters presents a holistic context of the artist and a family affair where the world is invited—just the way he would have liked it.

Jean-Michel Basquiat: King Pleasure closes on September 5.

Kalik, 1988