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."

News
Russell Brand was in typically combative form during his promotional interview with Newsnight's Evan Davis
peopleReports that Brand could stand for Mayor on an 'anti-politics' ticket
News
The clocks go forward an hour at 1am on Sunday 30 March
news
Arts and Entertainment
The Doctor finds himself in a forest version of London in Doctor Who episode 'In the Forest of the Night'
TVReview: Is the Doctor ever going stop frowning? Apparently not.
News
Voluminous silk drawers were worn by Queen Victoria
newsThe silk underwear is part of a growing trade in celebrity smalls
PROMOTED VIDEO
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Sport
footballMatch report: Real fight back to ruin Argentinian's debut
News
Candidates with surnames that start with an A have an electoral advantage
newsVoters are biased towards names with letters near start of alphabet
Arts and Entertainment
Isis with Lord Grantham (Hugh Bonneville)
TV
Arts and Entertainment
Jay James
TVReview: Performances were stale and cheesier than a chunk of Blue Stilton left out for a month
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

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

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Maths Teacher

£110 - £200 per day: Randstad Education Leeds: Secondary Maths Teacher for spe...

Business Analyst - Surrey - Permanent - Up to £50k DOE

£40000 - £50000 Per Annum Excellent benefits: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd:...

***ASP.NET Developer - Cheshire - £35k - Permanent***

£30000 - £35000 Per Annum Excellent benefits: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd:...

***Solutions Architect*** - Brighton - £40k - Permanent

£35000 - £40000 Per Annum Excellent benefits: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd:...

Day In a Page

Wilko Johnson, now the bad news: musician splits with manager after police investigate assault claims

Wilko Johnson, now the bad news

Former Dr Feelgood splits with manager after police investigate assault claims
Mark Udall: The Democrat Senator with a fight on his hands ahead of the US midterm elections

Mark Udall: The Democrat Senator with a fight on his hands

The Senator for Colorado is for gay rights, for abortion rights – and in the Republicans’ sights as they threaten to take control of the Senate next month
New discoveries show more contact between far-flung prehistoric humans than had been thought

New discoveries show more contact between far-flung prehistoric humans than had been thought

Evidence found of contact between Easter Islanders and South America
Cerys Matthews reveals how her uncle taped 150 interviews for a biography of Dylan Thomas

Cerys Matthews on Dylan Thomas

The singer reveals how her uncle taped 150 interviews for a biography of the famous Welsh poet
DIY is not fun and we've finally realised this as a nation

Homebase closures: 'DIY is not fun'

Homebase has announced the closure of one in four of its stores. Nick Harding, who never did know his awl from his elbow, is glad to see the back of DIY
The Battle of the Five Armies: Air New Zealand releases new Hobbit-inspired in-flight video

Air New Zealand's wizard in-flight video

The airline has released a new Hobbit-inspired clip dubbed "The most epic safety video ever made"
Pumpkin spice is the flavour of the month - but can you stomach the sweetness?

Pumpkin spice is the flavour of the month

The combination of cinnamon, clove, nutmeg (and no actual pumpkin), now flavours everything from lattes to cream cheese in the US
11 best sonic skincare brushes

11 best sonic skincare brushes

Forget the flannel - take skincare to the next level by using your favourite cleanser with a sonic facial brush
Paul Scholes column: I'm not worried about Manchester United's defence - Chelsea test can be the making of Phil Jones and Marcos Rojo

Paul Scholes column

I'm not worried about Manchester United's defence - Chelsea test can be the making of Jones and Rojo
Frank Warren: Boxing has its problems but in all my time I've never seen a crooked fight

Frank Warren: Boxing has its problems but in all my time I've never seen a crooked fight

While other sports are stalked by corruption, we are an easy target for the critics
Jamie Roberts exclusive interview: 'I'm a man of my word – I'll stay in Paris'

Jamie Roberts: 'I'm a man of my word – I'll stay in Paris'

Wales centre says he’s not coming home but is looking to establish himself at Racing Métro
How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?

A crime that reveals London's dark heart

How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?