Acknowledged today as one of the most significant artists of the 20th century, Jean-Michel Basquiat has left an enormous impact on the art world during his unfortunately short life and career. Artistically alluring and imbued with a deeper meaning, his works have brought to the forefront many of the dualities of the time.
The upcoming exhibition at The Contemporary Art Museum St. Louis will provide a unique insight into the artistic life of Basquiat before he achieved fame in the early 1980s. Titled Basquait Before Basquiat: East 12th Street, 1979-1980, the exhibition will present the entire collection of works made by the artist during the years he shared a small apartment in the East Village in New York with his friend Alexis Adler. The works will be accompanied by a breadth of archival material.
During the late 1970s, the creativeness of Jean-Michel Basquiat manifested in the form of graffiti, as he tagged the street walls and trains under the name of SAMO. By the end of the decade, creative impulses moved fluidly from his SAMO tags into a more sustained practice in the home he shared with Alexis Adler from mid-1979 to 1980.
The exhibition Basquiat Before Basquiat will explore this prolific period of the artist's career and the way life in New York informed and formed his artistic practice. In this period, Basquiat had no canvases, so he would use everything he could find in the streets of the East Village. "Jean was able to make money for paint and his share of the rent, which was $80 a month, by selling sweatshirts on the street," Adler recalls. "He knew that he was a great artist."
Featuring paintings, sculpture, works on paper, a notebook, and other ephemera, as well as Adler’s numerous photographs from this period, the exhibition documents the making of an artist. The audience will have an opportunity to see rarely seen artist's works from local collections but also to get a glimpse of the New York City of the time through the prism of Basquiat's art.
By examining this under-discussed moment of his career, the exhibition will deepen our understanding of himself and his work as it evolved to mid-80s. Creative impulses that guided him at the time contributed to the development of the distinctive voice and signature style he is now acclaimed for.
The exhibition Basquait Before Basquiat: East 12th Street, 1979-1980 will be on view at The Contemporary Art Museum St. Louis from September 7th until December 30th, 2018.
The opening reception will be held on Friday, September 7th, from 7 to 9 p.m.
It is organized by the Museum of Contemporary Art Denver and curated by Nora Burnett Abrams, Ellen Bruss Curator and Director of Planning. The Contemporary Art Museum St. Louis exhibition is organized by Lisa Melandri, Executive Director.
The exhibition will be accompanied by a range of related events such as A Conversation on Jean-Michel Basquiat with MCA Denver curator Nora Abrams, archivist Alexis Adler, musician Felice Rosser, and critic and curator Carlo McCormick, a performance by Joe McPhee and the screening of the new documentary Boom for Real.
Featured images: Basquiat in the apartment, 1981; Painted television in the apartment, c. 1979–1980; Left: Basquiat in the apartment, 1980 / Right: Basquiat practicing clarinet in the bathroom of the apartment, c. 1980; Basquiat performing in the apartment, c. 1980; Basquiat performing in the apartment, c. 1979–1980. All photographs by Alexis Adler, courtesy of The Contemporary Art Museum St. Louis.