Jean Michel Basquiat’s Politically Charged, Primally Sexual Paintings – Gagosian NY

Jean Michel Basquiat

Gagosian’s current exhibition of Jean Michel-Basquiat’s work, including over fifty unique pieces by the artist, is nearly a retrospective and something not to be missed. One could spend a whole day exploring each work, letting its madness take over until the world around no longer matters. This show not only reinforces Basquiat’s truly unique and almost frightening genius; but his statements on the human soul; what it means to be sane, what it means to be mad, what it means to be civilized, what it means to be wild, what it means to be trapped, what it means to be free, hit you in a way that is almost impossible to describe in words.

While Basqiat’s breathtakingly distorted depictions of the human figure and brilliant combinations of colors adhere to his obvious artistic genius, the show reveals that Basqiat’s brilliance stretches far beyond the artistic realm. To me, Basqiat becomes almost an anthropologist, commenting on aspects of the human existence that slyly challenge what we choose to see or choose to accept in the world around us. The piece to me that most strongly embodied this sentiment was his Eyes and Eggs, arguably one of Basquiat’s “simpler” canvases. The work is just a man, evidently a chef of sorts, holding up his pan of eggs, with his name tag reading “Joe”. He is staring at the viewer with such intensity that one feels both powerless and vulnerable. The piece stands as the reminder of the everyday moment that one never takes time to notice: the labor that goes unseen, the eggs that we eat without any gratitude for where they came from, and the consequences of such blind actions.

Each painting is such an honest expression of both pain and beauty; both the suffering within each of us, and the pink and yellow slabs of paint; the slight hope that one day we can overcome the anguish. Many of the pieces have notes or repeated phrases upon them, creating an innovative artistic language unique to Basquiat himself. Both his figures and notes become hieroglyphs notating explorations and critiques of his existence. Without being in your face screaming blatant, Basquiat’s pieces are politically charged . There is an explicit ambivalence between his personal pride and his inferiority within the racial divisions of our society. His struggles are palpable. At the same time, Basquiat’s pieces highlight the extremities of sexuality, and almost the primal nature of man’s sexual being.

While the show’s power mainly lay in the strength of Basquiat’s work, the show’s presentation and curating proved equally strong. The spacious galleries of the Gagosian W.24th st location allow for ample breathing space.  The pieces, while each carrying their own weight, never overpower one another. Instead, the pieces become snapshots into the artist’s psyche, leading into each other both aesthetically and intellectually. The show is a remarkable statement on the power of art and on the uninhibited mind; the truths that we all are too afraid to see.

 Words: Gracie Brahimy / BASQUIAT Installation shot Photo: Rob McKeever

Jean-Michel Basquiat February 7 – April 6, 2013 – 555 West 24th Street  New York, NY  10011


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