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This fall Fondation Louis Vuitton is presenting a landmark exhibition of work by Jean-Michel Basquiat, 30 years after his death. Curated by Dieter Buchhart, the show includes 120 works by the artist. Pieces on view will range from early drawings to monumental paintings, prints, collages, and more. Many will be on view for the first time in Europe.
Whitewaller spoke with Buchhart about what we can expect from the blockbuster show.
WHITEWALLER: This show brings together over 120 works, and debuts 30 years after the artist’s death. Why do you think Basquiat’s work has remained so relevant?
DIETER BUCHHART: Basquiat is undoubtedly one of the most important artists of the 20th century. His oeuvre—in his vast sampling of sources, techniques, and deeper thematic issues—remains quintessentially relevant to this day and age. Through his copy-paste approach, Basquiat opened the door to a convergence of diverse disciplines and ideas, thus creating new spaces for thought and anticipating our Internet and post-Internet society and contemporary forms of communication and reflection, especially in our world of allover surveillance, Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.
WW: Can you tell us about some of the earliest works on view, his drawings? What role did drawing play in his practice?
DB: Basquiat’s drawings, such as the monumental early work on paper Gringo Pilot (Anola Gay) (1981), are charged fields of symbolism, and represent a critical link between his conceptual wall graffiti and the progression of his artistic practice. Basquiat was a virtually manic draftsman, drawing constantly—often on the floor, and/or in the midst of conversation—on paper, canvas, and everyday objects. The dynamism of his inimitable line serves as a unique source of expression that gives life to his figures, warriors, heroes, heads, while simultaneously serving as a source of destruction—distorting, fragmenting, and dissecting their forms to expose their inner anatomies.
WW: What are some of the latest works by the artist?
DB: Important late works from the artist that will be on view include the large-scale drawing on canvas, Untitled (1986), as well as Untitled (1987), Unbreakable (1987), and Riding with Death (1988), to name a few.
WW: Some works on view have been rarely seen in public, or at all in Europe. Which of those should visitors keep an eye out for?
DB: Very rarely shown works, or those never before exhibited since their initial presentation during the artist’s lifetime, include Totem (1982), Untitled (1982) (from the “Prophet” series), Brett as a Negro (1982), Hollywood Africans in Front of the Chinese Theater with Footprints of Movie Stars (1983), Untitled (Word on Wood) (1985), Yellow Door (1985–86), and Negro Period (1986).
WW: A few collaborative works with Andy Warhol are also included in the show. Can you tell us about Basquiat’s relationship with Warhol? How did the two work together?
DB: After an initial meeting organized by gallerist Bruno Bischofberger, Warhol and Basquiat began working together in a creative endeavor that resulted in the creation of over 150 collaborations between the two artists. Artist Keith Haring described the collaboration as “a physical conversation happening in paint instead of words,” with Basquiat accentuating and deleting Warhol’s visual creations with his own visual elements in a dynamic layering and joint effort. While Warhol, inspired by Basquiat, returned to his 1960 beginnings as a painter, Basquiat continued his use of sampling, creating allover collages often through the employment of the silkscreen technique.