It’s difficult for a Canadian institution like the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts to mount a major new show on 1980s American art star Jean-Michel Basquiat. A significant selection of his work was last seen at the Art Gallery of Ontario in Toronto seven years ago, and only the MMFA can boast an example in its permanent collection. Should the museum play to the average audience who knows he died tragically and that his work now sells for record-breaking millions but has never seen a Basquiat painting in the flesh? Or talk to a world-traveling cognoscenti well-acquainted with his art but still busy debating the nature of his achievements?
With plenty of multimedia offerings and cultural backgrounds, as well as a new curatorial take on Basquiat, the MMFA will have it both ways with its new exhibition Seeing Loud: Basquiat and Music. A show that intelligently addresses the artist’s relationship with music – as a club hopper and occasional hip-hop DJ and a visual artist drawn to jazz – it’s a broad and at times tedious survey, covering the audience with the context of the 1980s club scene. by doing Time to propose a complex reading of some paintings in Lower Manhattan.
In 1980, a very young Basquiat explained on a community-cable show that he had stopped doing graffiti but was now selling his postcards. “Is graffiti dead?” asked the hip host TV partyBut Basquiat replied, no, he simply exhausted the good ideas of that medium.
If a young Basquiat could reject that avant-gardist insistence on novelty, the art world certainly did not in the 1970s, as abstraction had turned itself into a minimalist corner and Andy Warhol was desperate for any celebrity to value. The next big thing. Neo-Expressionism was the thing and Basquiat’s rise was meteoric. He had been a visual artist for less than a decade (before his death from a heroin overdose in 1988 at the age of 27) and yet his Weaver could now mount such an exhibition.
This is the third collaboration between the MMFA and the Musée de la musique – France’s Philharmonie de Paris, following shows dedicated to Chagall and Miles Davis. Its curators (Marie Dailey Desmares from the MMFA, Viennese Basquiat specialist Dieter Buchhardt and French jazz specialist Vincent Bessières) show that Basquiat lends itself well to a multidisciplinary approach. He made many references to jazz in his work, lionizing 1940s innovators Charlie Parker and Black Bebop, but he also became particularly open to the cross-fertilization between art, music, video and performance in a cultural era alongside hip hop.
This sets the scene with footage where the show begins TV party An interview and a slideshow of Basquiat’s early graffiti art, a street poem and political critique created with Al Diaz called Samo ©. Basquiat soon moved from walls to postcards to canvas, but where artists of the seventies used text as a conceptual device, his approach was either literal labeling or sonic, onomatopoeia and reveling in wordplay. Here is an early painting, old carWhich evokes traffic noise with four cars repeating AAAA.
Meanwhile, photographer and stylist Maripol’s Polaroids introduce a cast of characters including Debbie Harry, Keith Haring and Madonna. Another installation recreates the scene at Aria, a club where Basquiat sometimes DJed, and includes some of the collaged boxes he created for his sets there. There is information about his band Gray (although it was never recorded), including a recreation of the crazy shopping-cart instrumental Basquiat once played, and a 1983 film of a performance Basquiat put together for his friends at the Rhythm Lounge in Los Angeles, hip-hop artists Rammellzee and Toxic.
Whether this seems enlightening or overwhelming may depend on your interest in the 1980s. You might be young enough not to care — or just curious about scholarly information about an underappreciated decade. You may be old enough to be nostalgic — or merely stunned that the excesses of the 1980s could be considered so far-fetched that the decade is now a matter of cultural history.
Either way, the seriousness of this exercise cannot be discounted: every educational label is a fountain of information – where the pile of references can become almost comical. his portrait poisonous (the stage name of graffiti and hip-hop artist Toric Ablack) refers to Nigerian symbols researched by US art historian Robert Farris Thompson, and to jazz drummer Max Roach, Charlie Parker’s All Stars through photocopies of Basquiat’s own earlier work. , voiced by white actors Amos ‘n’ Andyand to slave-owning US President Andrew Jackson.
Basquiat has sometimes been dismissed as an uneducated graffiti artist, and if that’s still necessary, this show is a complete rebuttal, revealing the depth of his cultural knowledge and the complexity of his references. Still, providing interpretation versus inspiring thought is a difficult balancing act for curators, and the issue is especially complex in a country where audiences cannot be assumed to know Basquiat’s work well.
So, it’s a relief when this exhibition slows down in its second half, takes a deep breath, and makes room for larger paintings alongside its most interesting argument: Basquiat, who never painted without playing music, not only mentions musicians in his work but Musical structures are translated into paint.
The mix of collage and paint and his personal iconography (crowns, jaws, masks) have obvious ways of being compared to the improvisational and assimilative nature of jazz, while his borrowing and composition of texts are obvious parallels. Sample Hip Hop and Rap Poetry.
Still, the most compelling moment in this show goes further than mere comparisons. with Cocosolo, the curators argue that the sequential build-up of collaged images on canvas is a reference to the build-up of bars in sheet music. A reference to the title cocoa, Charlie Parker’s seminal 1945 composition, and the images, including globes on his shoulders and atlas with cans of pork and beans, suggest the improvisational liberation that bebop brought to jazz. The painting also features a dancer’s shoe print, a motif Basquiat repeats several times in a piece titled Grit soldAlthough This time it was tapping out a rhythm.
But when does entertainment become pandering and selling, selling? As early as 1982, in painting I took a slave With images of soccer players and their white referees, Basquiat alluded to the exploitation of black cultural figures, while his collaged boxes echoed the shoeboy’s kit. The exhibition concludes with a pair of canvases, Eroica i And Eroica 2 (in reference to a Beethoven symphony) painted shortly before Basquiat’s death, filled with stick figure icons for a dead man and samples of Bs from the dictionary of black slang.
In the meantime. Basquiat was an art star, with millions and a drug problem: if the 1980s helped make the artist, they also helped kill him. For all the cultural complexities expressed here, his art is full of youthful energy, rage and hero worship. This inevitably raises the specter of what he might produce at maturity.
Seeing Loud: Basquiat and Music continues until February 19 at the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts.