In 2019, art lovers and museums celebrated the 500th anniversary of the death of Leonardo.
In 2020, it’s his Renaissance contemporary, Raphael, whose passing receives the quincentennial treatment.
In the year 2488, Jean-Michel Basquiat figures to be similarly honored. Though 2020 represents no significant milestone marking his death from drug overdose at the age of 27 in 1988, his work features at leading museums, galleries and auctions around the world.
The centerpiece of that attention was supposed occur at the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston with its exhibit, “Writing the Future: Basquiat and the Hip-Hop Generation.” The show had intended to debut April 5, but the museum has closed indefinitely due to the spread of coronavirus.
Fingers are crossed it will open to the public well in advance of its scheduled August 2 closing in Boston after which it would travel to the Pérez Art Museum in Miami.
or of Contemporary Art, said. “Basquiat raged against injustice, racism, predetermined hierarchies and exclusionary practices that left him out of the art world conversation.”
His instantly recognizable paintings looked like no one else’s before or since; the emotion behind them continues to be shared by millions.
“I think the spirit of forging one’s own path despite institutionalized racism still resonates for many people,” Munsell said.
Major exhibitions devoted to Basquiat are nothing new. 2019 saw one generate sell-out crowds in Paris and New York.
“Writing the Future” differentiates itself as the first major exhibition to contextualize Basquiat’s work in relation to his peers associated with hip-hop culture.
Basquiat was a singular talent. He was not working in isolation, however. He was part of a broader, outsider, artistic community in New York City, a community that would help spawn hip-hop culture.
Their work in 1980s New York marked the transition of graffiti from city walls and subway trains to canvas and into art galleries. Basquiat became the face of this transformational and insurgent movement in contemporary American art, but he wasn’t going it alone.
“Writing the Future” combines 35 works from around the world by Basquiat with nearly 100 works in a variety of mediums by 11 of his contemporaries: A-One, ERO, Fab 5 Freddy, Futura, Keith Haring, Kool Koor, LA2, Lady Pink, Lee Quiñones, Rammellzee and Toxic.
“Post-graffiti is one of the most generative, but overlooked movements in contemporary American art,” Munsell said. “Far too little institutional attention has been paid to the pioneers of graffiti art considering their outsized influence not just on street art and hip hop culture–as if that wasn’t enough–but on contemporary art of the 1980s and moving forward.”
Today, it’s easy to think of hip-hop exclusively as a musical genre due to its dominance of the pop charts. This exhibit reminds viewers hip-hop’s influence extends beyond music.
“Music is just one element of hip-hop culture—a cross-disciplinary movement that encompassed graffiti art (writing, tagging and bombing in the culture’s vernacular), MCing (rapping), DJing (scratching, sampling and mixing) and breakdancing (b-boying), plus the fifth element, knowledge,” Munsell said.
Can’t make it to Boston? Be patient. “Jean-Michel Basquiat” opens June 6 at The Broad in Los Angeles featuring all 13 works by the artist in the Broad collection, including three works on view for the first time: Santo 2 (1982), Deaf (1984) and Wicker (1984).
As an artist irrevocably connected to New York, galleries there with access to his work continue showcasing it. The latest example comes from Skarstedt gallery where Basquiat is paired with a contemporary outside the hip-hop world, one of the few who could nearly match him in the arena of “uncommon visceral expression,” Georg Baselitz.
“Baselitz/Basquiat, 1981-1982” features seven paintings by Basquiat and six by Baselitz. A portion of the works on view are for sale. The show has a scheduled closing on April 4, but, like the MFA, Skarstedt is closed. It is expected the show will be extended
This brief period of time represented a creative peak for both artists where they burst onto the international art scene. Basquiat’s first-ever solo show took place in 1981 in Italy, followed by his inaugural New York show in 1982. It was within these years Basquiat’s most celebrated paintings emerged.
As he recalled of the year 1982, “I had some money. I made the best paintings ever. I was completely reclusive, worked a lot, took a lot of drugs…”
At Skarstedt gallery, you can purchase a Basquiat of your own. At Masterworks, the first company to securitize multi-million dollar blue-chip paintings, owner Scott Lynn will sell you a share of a Basquiat.
Masterworks has debuted for sale a 1982 Basquiat painting, The Mosque, which it purchased in late February 2020 at Christie’s in London for more than $5 million.
What makes Lynn think this painting is a good investment for his company and its growing roster of over 35,000 investors?
“1982 is one of the most desirable years (for Basquiat),” Lynn said. “His record price, the $110 million skull painting (the most expensive painting ever sold at auction by an American artist), was dated ‘82 and also has the same vibrant blue as our painting.”
Masterworks’ research finds Basquiat to have one of the strongest markets of any artist with his auction prices increasing 20.9% from 2000 to 2018.
“Basquiat has the best absolute returns over the last 40 years (18%) and risk-adjusted returns of any artist we monitor,” Lynn said. “Ninety-four percent of the time, people have made money when purchasing Basquiats.”
The painting’s title refers to a location down the street from where Basquiat grew up and the iconography contemplates a transition into the afterlife.
Basquiat’s appeal continues extending internationally as well.
The National Gallery of Victoria (Australia), also presently closed, reunites him with a post-graffiti peer when presenting “Keith Haring | Jean-Michel Basquiat: Crossing Lines.” More than 200 artworks, including those created in public spaces, painting, sculpture, objects, works on paper and photographs reveal the tragically short careers of both artists.
If anyone from the early hip-hop era’s legacy were to rival Basquiat’s for cultural permanence, it would be Haring. The two were friends, and in addition to numerous other connections they shared as young New York graffiti artists of the same period rising to art world superstardom, they also share the tragedy of early deaths. Haring died at 31 from AIDS-related complications.
Their eternal remembrance despite brief lives and the global prevalence of hip-hop culture making clear their artistic impact.