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Brooklyn-born and world-renowned artist Jean-Michel Basquiat is being remembered for his genius by those who knew him best–his family.
Opening Saturday, the “Jean-Michel Basquiat: King Pleasure” exhibition will span more than 15,000 square feet in Manhattan’s Starrett-Lehigh building and includes re-creations of Basquiat’s New York City studio, a nightclub, and rooms of his childhood home to give a glimpse of his life through the eyes of his friends and family.
With Haitian and Puerto Rican roots, his lived experiences fueled the creativity behind his works that mirrored social and cultural touch points in a striking and profound style that was and remains completely his own.
Family keeps his spirit alive.
His sisters, Jeanine Heriveaux and Lisane Basquiat, along with their stepmother, Nora Fitzpatrick, had the idea to curate an exhibition of Basquiat’s work back in 2017, however, they didn’t act on it until 2020, as the world confronted social injustice and the Covid-19 pandemic.
“The theme is really Jean-Michel as a human being,” Heriveaux said. “Before he was an artist, he was a son. He was a brother. He was a nephew — and we’re trying to show that human side of Jean-Michel and where he came from, his childhood, and our personal relationships with him.”
The exhibit will feature over 200 recovered paintings, drawings, and various collections from the late artist previously concealed from public view.
Jean-Michel Basquiat loved being Black.
Many of his pieces from the early 1980s — including “Gold Griot,” “Big Joy” and “Hollywood Africans” — speak to the experiences of Black people and their portrayal in society. Many of his works feature the crown that became a signature in his paintings and has been adopted by artists, athletes, paint-and-sips classes, and everything Black in between.
“Jean-Michel was one of the very few people early on to claim a crown — to claim that he was royalty,” Lisane Basquiat said.
Jean-Michel Basquiat’s art imitated his life.
Basquiat often detailed his experiences as a Black man through his art. Although he was clearly successful and well-known, Heriveaux said her brother often had difficulties catching a taxi because he was Black.
She also said Jean-Michel Basquiat was deeply affected by the 1983 death of Michael Stewart, a Black man who died after police arrested him, accusing him of writing graffiti on a New York City subway station wall.
“It shook him so much,” Heriveaux said. “He stated that he thought that could be him. Whatever thoughts that were occurring in his mind … he sketched about them. He painted about them.”
Not only a painter but a man of purpose, Basquiat forced intentionality into his portraits and often left little room for interpretations, in particular toward his thoughts on police.
Fans of art, culture, and Blackness are in for a show on Saturday as the legacy of Jean-Michel Basquiat continues to influence and inspire.