Basquiat: A Singular Sensation

Visitors contemplate Basquiat’s 1982 Untitled

One painting in a white room in a quiet corner is all anyone really needs to contemplate the life, art, and brilliance of Brooklyn’s most celebrated art-world superstar, Jean-Michel Basquiat.

Lest anyone underestimate the reverence in which art fans hold Mr. Basquiat, just observe which paintings are the biggest selfie magnets at The Armory Show or in the survey galleries at MoMA.  You’ll see a constant stream of excited fans posing one by one to record their presence with any canvas by Jean-Michel – rough, gestural, colorful, graffiti-smeared, topical, socially conscious, channeling voices and ideas in a way that’s his alone.

The Brooklyn Museum’s 2005 retrospective of Basquiat was just like that – legions coming to celebrate one of the borough’s greatest stars. Now the museum’s turned the tables – giving everyone a view of their favorite son in a completely different, audacious setting.

“Untitled”, the focal point of the show, acrylic and oil stick

One Basquiat, on view through March 11 at the Brooklyn Museum of Art, provides an almost church-like atmosphere with stark white benches reverently set where fans can sit quietly and contemplate the work of this legendary Brooklyn artist. No flash, no drama – just you and a singular sensation by Jean-Michel.

Japanese collector and Basquiat super-fan Yusaku Maezawa paid a fortune for this painting at auction last May and decided to collaborate with the museum to spread the joy with other fans in Basquiat’s hometown.

Never mind that his bid was the sixth-highest ever made for a contemporary painting – when you buy something that no one else has seen in over 30 years, why not give props to its creator in the classy way he deserves – white room, solitary contemplation, just one work.

James Van Der Zee’s 1982 portrait of Basquiat

A few discrete wall panels explain Jean-Michel’s importance and context, and the little vitrine with his Brooklyn Museum junior membership card says it all about the artist-as-youngster. His mom enrolled him when he was six.

The show is lovingly bookended (outside the white room) with a monumental James Van Der Zee portrait of Jean-Michel and clips from a 1981 film showing the creative genius in action, making his mark on unadorned walls. See our Flickr album.

Get out to Brooklyn immediately to see the hometown hero’s work before it takes flight to Chibu, Japan.

Close up of Basquiat’s brushwork and drawing

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