This article was originally published on Respect My Region
Read Macbeth once and you’ll spot its DNA all over popular culture. The same can be said about Sherlock Holmes. With time, creative works such as these outgrow their mediums of origin and mature into omnipresent forces that linger over our sensibilities.
To this point, consider Jean-Michel Basquiat. In his brisk 27 years, the New York City wunderkind managed to give the bustling art circuit of 1980s America a whole new identity. By no means was he the sole visionary responsible for the culture shift of the time, but he did have his foot firmly pressed down on the pedal for the entirety of his fleeting stint, the effects of which persist to this day.
In honor of his cross-generational influence, the Basquiat estate has put together the “King Pleasure” exhibition. Produced and curated by his sisters, Lisane Basquiat and Jeanine Heriveaux, the display is now open to all in downtown Los Angeles after a widely successful run in New York City. The four-part presentation features more than 200 paintings, drawings and artifacts, a lot of which have never been available to the public before. The walk-through also includes recreations of his workspaces, family home and the VIP Room of a nightclub he frequented. All of this was designed to familiarize the average non-expert with the life and mind of someone who demonstrated that taste and attitude can take precedence over skill.
“King Pleasure” isn’t meant to help you understand art (which, let’s be honest, is something elitist gatekeepers just made up) as much as contextualize the world around you through an abstract lens. You’ll leave with a better sense of the conditions that birthed and bred Basquiat’s seminal luminosity, and how it continues to dictate creativity in the 21st century.
Three and a half decades after his abrupt passing, Basquiat’s artistic remnants serve as the layperson’s portal into the world of modern art. It doesn’t really matter what you call it—Neo-expressionism, graffiti, primitive or rubbish—because most tend to settle on “cool.” His reach from beyond the grave goes further than almost every other artist, comparable only to pop-art titan Andy Warhol.
Once you trace back the method, style and tropes of Basquiat and put a face on them, you’ll begin noticing his presence at every corner. It could be the squiggly crown peppered all over your city or the countless impersonators trying to establish their own brands of intrepid risk-taking … or the album cover of the most recent Strokes album … or Jay-Z namedropping him on a song about his private art collection.
Jean-Michel Basquiat is everywhere because he represents endless potential — act on that strange impulse and do it with conviction; give it a form and then mold it into something that looks as weird as you feel. When you take a step back, you’ll be surprised to see it’s far more intentional and meaningful than you initially thought … and none of this is as easy as it sounds.
At some point during the exhibition, you might stare at one of Basquiat’s innumerable untitled paintings and think to yourself, “I could’ve made that.”
Well, that’s the thing – you didn’t.