Outside Occidental: “Jean-Michel Basquiat: King Pleasure” exhibit

Courtesy of The Estate of Jean-Michel Basquiat

The bright colors of Jean-Michel Basquiat’s paintings harmonize with the lingering melodies of Nat King Cole and Jay Z in The Grand LA’s new exhibit, “Jean-Michel Basquiat: King Pleasure.” Four galleries are connected by a green outdoor sitting space in the downtown LA venue, each revolving around its own theme and with over 200 never-seen-before pieces created by the American modern artist.

The spaces were curated and produced by Lisane Basquiat and Jeanine Heriveaux, Jean-Michel Basquiat’s two sisters and current owners of his estate. Following an eight-month run in New York City, the exhibit opened in downtown LA in April and runs until Oct. 15. The galleries include recreations of their childhood home, Basquiat’s New York studio and the Palladium New York nightclub he frequented. According to Heriveaux, much of the furniture and ephemera from their past home in Brooklyn are present in the exhibition.

“Everything in the exhibit held some personal feeling for Jeanine and I … we have things in there that are as personal and intimate as childhood movies — home movies from when we were children to Jean-Michel’s birth announcement to some illustrations he did for a school newspaper,” Lisane Basquiat said.

Courtesy of The Estate of Jean-Michel Basquiat

According to the exhibit, the first gallery focused on his childhood, the second on his impact, the third on Black heroes referred to as royalty and the last on his legacy and place. Viewers are able to flow back and forth between the spaces, taking time to sit and process with others, Heriveaux said.

“What made Jean-Michel become the man that he became, and what were the things that inspired him?” Heriveuax said. “Who were the people that inspired him? That can only be done by opening up yourselves and being vulnerable and transparent.”

Courtesy of The Estate of Jean-Michel Basquiat

According to visiting Occidental art history professor Sami Siegelbaum, experimental avant-garde cultural movements began to manifest following a fiscal crash and the beginning of the boom on Wall Street in the 1980s. Born in December 1960 in Brooklyn, New York, much of Basquiatʻs career occurred during this period until his passing in August 1988.

“There were a lot of artists and musicians and others who came together, and there was a cross-pollination of different trends,” Siegelbaum said. “The punk culture that was part of the music scene… hip hop, graffiti and other various visual art movements [were] emerging at that time.”

Jean-Michel Basquiat became friends with artists such as Andy Warhol, whose portraits of the Basquiat family are displayed in the exhibit.

“[There was a] sort of DIY, quasi-anarchistic vibe that was happening; various influences coming together,” Siegelbaum said of the time period. “It was in this context that Basquiat entered this scene.”

Courtesy of The Estate of Jean-Michel Basquiat
Courtesy of The Estate of Jean-Michel Basquiat

While most of Basquiat’s famous work speaks to the Neo-expressionist style of the 1980s, the topics and themes he addresses are omnipresent today, according to Lisane Basquiat.

“We were inspired by the fact that Jean-Michel’s voice continues to be as prolific and evergreen as it is,” Lisane Basquiat said. “The narrative that he had and the things that he was focused on continue to be issues in our world. In that moment that we decided to do it in 2020, we were most immediately inspired by all of the seemingly never-ending issues that were going on in the world around capitalism and public health and social justice and the attacks on Black men like George Floyd.”

The sisters spend time walking visitors through the exhibit or speaking with attendees, who they said often include anyone from art enthusiasts to families to students.

“There are a lot of specific moments where someone who’s come has gotten very emotional and shared how Jean-Michel has impacted their lives, how [he] inspired them to paint or to be creative in their medium,” Heriveaux said. “We’ve met chefs who’ve been inspired, musicians, poets. It seems that Jean-Michel really inspires all creatives to go after their passion.”

Contact Mollie Barnes at mbarnes@oxy.edu.


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