Basquiat's Paris dream comes true – 22 years too late for him

At the end of Jean-Michel Basquiat's short life, the explosively talented but troubled New York artist had a dream – to stage a major exhibit of his eye-popping, doodle-covered work in Paris.

Nearly 50 years after his birth, and 22 years after his death at the age of 27 of a drug overdose, Basquiat's wish has finally come true.

Basquiat, which opened yesterday at the Modern Art Museum of the City of Paris, brings together more than 150 pieces that trace his rise from graffiti artist to star of the New York art scene.

The son of a Haitian father and Puerto Rican mother, Basquiat broke the glass ceiling that had kept black artists out of the art elite. Curators said his dazzling rise helped pave the way for other prominent African-Americans, including President Barack Obama, who was born a year after Basquiat.

"Jean-Michel Basquiat is a very important link in the chain that led to black Americans' liberation," said curator Dieter Buchhart, adding that the artist's grappling with racism was a major theme of his work. "It's overtly political and takes on issues of race and questions capitalism in the boldest ways."

Slave Trade, an oversized 1982 painting featuring a white auctioneer offering a massive skull with a crown of thorns, probes the tragic history of Africans' arrival in the US, while 1983's Undiscovered Genius of the Mississippi Delta skewers the stultifying legacy of segregation. An untitled 1981 canvas features a black man in prison stripes flanked by two white policemen. The officers, hulking shapes in royal blue, wear neat caps, while the prisoner's headgear is more ethereal: a halo.

Basquiat's paintings celebrate icons of black culture, from boxers like Muhammad Ali, Sugar Ray Robinson and Joe Louis to jazzmen including Miles Davis. Now's the Time, an oversized black wooden disk painted with white lines to suggest a massive LP, is a tribute to Charlie Parker.

It's also among the most sober of the pieces in the Paris show, which explodes with saturated colours, nervous lines and letters and words that – repeated obsessively and sometimes scratched out – crowd the crudely drawn figures. The canvases are palimpsests, piled with layer after layer of acrylic paint and patches of pastel and melded with drawings on paper.

"Basquiat was constantly working and reworking his paintings, adding elements and then painting over them, so that what was there before left just the faintest of traces," said Mr Buchhart, adding that the artist's obsessive, workaholic nature was a source of friction with Andy Warhol, who took Basquiat under his wing in the early 1980s.

The show includes several collaborations between the two, including 1984's Arm and Hammer II, with two huge logos from the baking soda brand side by side. The one on the right – Warhol's – is a faithful reproduction of the iconic logo, with a beefy arm brandishing a hammer, while on the right, Basquiat presents Charlie Parker with a saxophone at his lips as the logo's centrepiece.

"Sometimes the collaborations didn't go so well," Mr Buchhart said. "Sometimes Warhol wasn't so happy because he would paint something and Basquiat would go in and paint over everything. But Basquiat sometimes thought Warhol was lazy because he would finish quickly and Basquiat wanted to go back into everything over and over."

In addition to the paintings, most of them towering canvases and wooden panels, the show also includes unexpected artistic objects, like a painted refrigerator and even a football helmet sprouting a thin moss of human hair.

Mr Buchhart called the show, which runs until January 30, the realisation of Basquiat's last dreams. "I talked to his father, who told me that in the last months of his life, Basquiat talked about wanting a big show in Paris," he said. "We're so glad it's finally happened."

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
election 2015The 10 best quotes of the campaign
A caravan being used as a polling station in Ford near Salisbury, during the 2010 election
election 2015The Independent's guide to get you through polling day
David Blunkett joins the Labour candidate for Redcar Anna Turley on a campaigning visit last month
voicesWhat I learnt from my years in government, by the former Home Secretary David Blunkett
ebooksA celebration of British elections
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Ashdown Group: Marketing Manager (B2B) - Romford - £40,000 + car

£35000 - £40000 per annum + car and benefits: Ashdown Group: Marketing Manager...

Ashdown Group: Helpdesk Analyst - Devon - £20,000

£18000 - £20000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Helpdesk Analyst - Devon - £20,000 ...

Ashdown Group: Data Scientist - London - £50,000 + bonus

£35000 - £50000 per annum + generous bonus: Ashdown Group: Business Analytics ...

Ashdown Group: IT Project Coordinator (Software Development) - Kingston

£45000 - £50000 per annum: Ashdown Group: IT Project Coordinator (Software Dev...

Day In a Page

General Election 2015: ‘We will not sit down with Nicola Sturgeon’, says Ed Balls

'We will not sit down with Nicola Sturgeon'

In an exclusive interview, Ed Balls says he won't negotiate his first Budget with SNP MPs - even if Labour need their votes to secure its passage
VE Day 70th anniversary: How ordinary Britons celebrated the end of war in Europe

How ordinary Britons celebrated VE Day

Our perception of VE Day usually involves crowds of giddy Britons casting off the shackles of war with gay abandon. The truth was more nuanced
They came in with William Caxton's printing press, but typefaces still matter in the digital age

Typefaces still matter in the digital age

A new typeface once took years to create, now thousands are available at the click of a drop-down menu. So why do most of us still rely on the old classics, asks Meg Carter?
Discovery of 'missing link' between the two main life-forms on Earth could explain evolution of animals, say scientists

'Missing link' between Earth's two life-forms found

New microbial species tells us something about our dark past, say scientists
The Pan Am Experience is a 'flight' back to the 1970s that never takes off - at least, not literally

Pan Am Experience: A 'flight' back to the 70s

Tim Walker checks in and checks out a four-hour journey with a difference
Humans aren't alone in indulging in politics - it's everywhere in the animal world

Humans aren't alone in indulging in politics

Voting, mutual back-scratching, coups and charismatic leaders - it's everywhere in the animal world
Crisp sales are in decline - but this tasty trivia might tempt back the turncoats

Crisp sales are in decline

As a nation we're filling up on popcorn and pitta chips and forsaking their potato-based predecessors
Ronald McDonald the muse? Why Banksy, Ron English and Keith Coventry are lovin' Maccy D's

Ronald McDonald the muse

A new wave of artists is taking inspiration from the fast food chain
13 best picnic blankets

13 best picnic blankets

Dine al fresco without the grass stains and damp bottoms with something from our pick of picnic rugs
Barcelona 3 Bayern Munich 0 player ratings: Lionel Messi scores twice - but does he score highest in our ratings?

Barcelona vs Bayern Munich player ratings

Lionel Messi scores twice - but does he score highest in our ratings?
Martin Guptill: Explosive New Zealand batsman who sets the range for Kiwis' big guns

Explosive batsman who sets the range for Kiwis' big guns

Martin Guptill has smashed early runs for Derbyshire and tells Richard Edwards to expect more from the 'freakish' Brendon McCullum and his buoyant team during their tour of England
General Election 2015: Ed Miliband's unlikely journey from hapless geek to heart-throb

Miliband's unlikely journey from hapless geek to heart-throb

He was meant to be Labour's biggest handicap - but has become almost an asset
General Election 2015: A guide to the smaller parties, from the the National Health Action Party to the Church of the Militant Elvis Party

On the margins

From Militant Elvis to Women's Equality: a guide to the underdogs standing in the election
Amr Darrag: Ex-Muslim Brotherhood minister in exile still believes Egypt's military regime can be replaced with 'moderate' Islamic rule

'This is the battle of young Egypt for the future of our country'

Ex-Muslim Brotherhood minister Amr Darrag still believes the opposition can rid Egypt of its military regime and replace it with 'moderate' Islamic rule, he tells Robert Fisk
Why patients must rely less on doctors: Improving our own health is the 'blockbuster drug of the century'

Why patients must rely less on doctors

Improving our own health is the 'blockbuster drug of the century'