On what would have been Jean-Michel Basquiat’s 50th birthday, a massive retrospective of the troubled artist’s oeuvre has just opened at the Musée d’Art Moderne in Paris. Organized chronologically, “Basquiat” (on view through January 30, 2011) offers a rare view of the child-like, rough-hewn, Neo-Expressionist style he pioneered during the headiness of 1980s New York.
Born in Brooklyn, Basquiat started off spray-painting graffiti on buildings in lower Manhattan, tagging it with “SAMO,” short for “Same Old Shit.” The self-taught artist became the first African-American painter to reach international stardom. Before his death from a heroin overdose in 1988, at the age of 27, he had begun collaborating with Andy Warhol, briefly dated a still-unknown Madonna and would famously show up at parties straight from his studio in paint-splattered $1000 Armani suits.
Basquiat drew inspiration from his multicultural background and his everyday life. While his celebrity often overshadowed his work in the larger-than-life artistic landscape of the time, the themes he explored—racism, consumerism, class struggle, mortality—are being felt to this day, their meaning still unsettling and still unsettled.
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