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Basquiat's Xerox Works Come Together in a Show

  • Jean-Michel Basquiat - Peter and the Wolf, 1985
March 7, 2019
Balasz Takac is alias of Vladimir Bjelicic who is actively engaged in art criticism, curatorial and artistic practice.

Although he was a misfit belonging to the New York underground in the 1980s, Jean-Michel Basquiat quickly came to prominence after his extraordinary talent was discovered. Namely, this prolific figure set off his career as part of a graffiti duo SAMO, was involved with the up-and-coming No wave scene and was featured in an iconic documentary Downtown 81 by Glenn O’Brien. In 1980, he also became friends with Andy Warhol which largely reflected on his artistic production.

Unfortunately, at the peak of critical acclaim and commercial success, Jean-Michel Basquiat died of heroin overdose. Nevertheless, during his lifetime the artist released an impressive body of work. Interestingly so, a notable amount of paintings were made with Xerox copies, which he used as the compositional base. This aspect of his production was rarely analyzed, so the upcoming exhibition titled simply Jean-Michel Basquiat: Xerox at Nahmad Contemporary will shed new light on this particular medium.

Jean-Michel Basquiat - Natchez
Jean-Michel Basquiat – Natchez, 1985. Acrylic, oil, Xerox collage and wood collage on panel, 85 x 60.6 x 4 inches (216 x 154 x 10 cm). Private Collection. © Estate of Jean-Michel Basquiat. Licensed by Artestar, New York

Fascinated With The Machine

The leading proponent of the Neo-expressionist art movement, Jean-Michel Basquiat is best known for a complex and quite poetic aesthetic. A high level of innovation is reflected through his continued experimentation with the traditional media, and although his works operate within the two-dimensionality, they are often hard to describe due to a specific conceptual and stylistic formatting.

For this particular occasion, more than twenty paintings were selected in order to present how Basquiat was dazzled with the Xerox technology, since it introduced him to an array of opportunities. On display will also be a selection of his earliest Xeroxed postcards and Xerox-enveloped sculptures.

Jean-Michel Basquiat - Galileo Galilei
Jean-Michel Basquiat – Galileo Galilei, 1983. Acrylic, oilstick, and Xerox collage on canvas, 78.75 x 51 inches (200 x 129.5 cm). Private Collection. © Estate of Jean-Michel Basquiat. Licensed by Artestar, New York

About The Works

In 1979 together with Jennifer Stein, Basquiat produced a series of small, colorful collages made of paint splatters, scrawled text and found clippings and product labels which they photocopied and sold as art postcards on the streets of New York.

However, a few years later the collaging process became central in Basquiat’s practice, and it was around 1983 that the artist started using increasingly the photocopier as a tool to produce paintings; at one point he purchased his own Xerox machine. It is important to mention that his inspiration can be traced in the cut-up technique popularized by the Beat Generation writer William S. Burroughs.

Jean-Michel Basquiat - King of the Zulus
Jean-Michel Basquiat – King of the Zulus, 1984-85. Acrylic, oilstick, and Xerox collage on paper mounted on canvas, 86 x 68 x 1.5 inches (218.5 x 173 x 4 cm). MAC, Musée d’Art Contemporain, Marseille. © Estate of Jean-Michel Basquiat. Licensed by Artestar, New York

Jean-Michel Basquiat Xerox Works at Nahmad Contemporary

Aside from just underlining Basquiat’s extraordinary sense for visual language, the upcoming exhibition will show that he was also a genuine pioneer of the pre-digital age, as well as his great ability to embrace self-appropriative technique which definitely makes him more than just a vibrant and talented painter.

The exhibition could not be possible without the loans from numerous important collections, primarily the Estate of Jean-Michel Basquiat, museums and institutions such as the Musée d’Art Contemporain de Marseille and the Louis Vuitton Foundation. It will be accompanied by an extensive catalog including texts written by Dieter Buchhart, Christopher D. Stackhouse and Eric Robertson.

Jean-Michel Basquiat: Xerox will be on display at Nahmad Contemporary in New York from 12 March until 31 May 2019.

Featured image: Jean-Michel Basquiat – Peter and the Wolf, 1985. Acrylic, oilstick, and Xerox collage on canvas, 100 x 113.78 inches (254 x 289 cm). Collection of The Robert Lehrman Revocable Trust, Courtesy of Aimee and Robert Lehrman. © Estate of Jean-Michel Basquiat. Licensed by Artestar, New York.