Jean-Michel Basquiat, Untitled Notebook #1 (Cover), 1980–1981, Mixed media on board. Collection of Larry Warsh.
Image via high.org.
Basquiat: The Unknown Notebooks
February 28 - May 29, 2016
HIGH MUSEUM OF ART
1280 Peachtree Street NE
From High Museum of Art press release:
The High Museum of Art will present its first exhibition focused solely on the life and work of the influential artist Jean-Michel Basquiat (1960–1988).
The exhibition features rarely seen notebooks filled with the artist’s handwritten texts and sketches, the 160 unbound notebook pages will be presented along with 30 related paintings, drawings and mixed-media works drawn from private collections and the artist’s estate. Also on view will be the 1984 Basquiat painting “Untitled (Cadmium)” from the High’s permanent collection.
Basquiat’s notebooks, created between 1980 and 1987, demonstrate how he began to develop the artistic strategies that would inform his large-scale works, which combine text and images in a raw expressionist style to explore culture and society through historical and popular themes. His unique visual language aimed to undermine social hierarchies and rules, taking inspiration from comics, children’s drawings, advertising and Pop art, from Aztec, African, Caribbean, Greek and Roman culture, and from everyday life.
Language was an early medium for Basquiat, and words are an integral part of the notebooks and the large-scale figurative paintings for which he is best known. Handwritten texts run throughout his diverse production, blurring the lines between writing and drawing and between drawing and painting. While the total number of notebooks created by Basquiat remains unknown, the notebooks presented in this exhibition reflect the originality of Basquiat’s thinking and the diversity of his subjects. The eight notebooks in the exhibition and several other works have been borrowed from the collection of Larry Warsh, a New York–based publisher and early collector of Basquiat’s works, who previously served as a member of the Basquiat authentication committee.
Basquiat followed a specific format for his notebook texts, which he wrote primarily in black ink in capital letters similar to those of his street graffiti. Writing only on the right-hand pages, he used color sparingly in the notebooks, with a few exceptions.
Early sketches of subjects that recur in later works, such as tepees, skeletal faces and crowns, appear in the earliest notebooks from 1980 to ’81. The notebook writings range from extended narrative poems and wordplay to observations of New York’s street life, along with lists of celebrities and incidental notes from the artist’s personal life. As in his paintings, fragments of found texts appear throughout the notebooks, incorporating street signage, news stories and references from literature and the Old Testament. Other pages reflect Basquiat’s overriding interest in highlighting racial discrimination and acknowledging the important contributions of African Americans and other people of color as well as his interests in music, world history and popular culture.
“This exhibition offers a very intimate look at the life of an incredibly influential, and somewhat romanticized, figure in contemporary art,” said Michael Rooks, Wieland Family curator of modern and contemporary art at the High. “It’s evident from his writings that Basquiat knew he would find the fame that so fascinated and troubled him, and he recognized that his work spoke to the youth culture of a rapidly changing world. The notebooks give us an opportunity to trace his private thoughts and reflections from their pages to the walls of the gallery. From them, we may develop new perspectives on his artistic practice and a deeper understanding of his life.”
To accompany Basquiat: The Unknown Notebooks, the High has gathered a group of Basquiat’s paintings on view on the Skyway Level of the High’s Wieland Pavilion.
The exhibition will be accompanied by a fully illustrated catalogue published by the Brooklyn Museum and Skira Rizzoli. The volume includes essays by exhibition curator and Basquiat scholar Dieter Buchhart; Henry Louis Gates, Jr., Alphonse Fletcher University professor and director of the W. E. B. Du Bois Institute for African and African American Research at Harvard University; Franklin Sirmans, museum director of the Pérez Art Museum Miami and the High’s 2007 Driskell Prize honoree; and Christopher Stackhouse, a Brooklyn-based writer and visual artist.