icon caret-left icon caret-right instagram pinterest linkedin facebook twitter goodreads question-circle facebook circle twitter circle linkedin circle instagram circle goodreads circle pinterest circle

Blog

Basquiat

BASQUIAT

 

 

In our all-or-nothing culture, creative work is too often either apotheosized or ignored. You're a rock star or you're nothing. The public has little appetite for nuance.

 

                 -Jed Perl in the New York Review of Books 11/4/21

 

All I could think of as I walked through the narrow, packed gallery was that this adorable, talented boy died of an overdose at 27, that the narrative of his tormented inner life has been lost in the exploitation of his work, and that both his mentally ill abusive Latino mother, who nurtured his artistic inclinations before she succumbed to her own demons, and his abusive Haitian father, have escaped responsibility for their son's short life in the hagiography of this exhibition. Basquiat ended up homeless on the streets of New York, became addicted to cocaine and heroin, suffered greatly as he tried to get sober, and then was gone. And despite this awful backstory, or perhaps because of it, he created a lasting body of work now worth millions, $110.5 million just recently.

 

The work is intentional, energetic, mysterious, uplifting, sometimes crass, usually profound and inspiring, especially to young artists today, by all accounts. But in the years since his death, it has been sold at auction for profit by his family;  his two sisters, with the help of their step-mother, mounted this immersive exhibition. Is any of this profit going to rehab programs, or research about trauma and addiction? I have found no evidence of this in the Basquiat family's internet footprint, and my query to the media relations department was answered anonymously: the pricing is "commensurate" with other New York City attractions such as the Van Gogh immersive exhibtion, which had no original art at all. 

 

How do the artifacts, scraps of paper, and re-created living spaces illuminate Basquiat's life and his artistic process? I am not sure they do. Indeed, at times, it feels voyeuristic, rather than informative, to be looking inside the cleansed, pristine living spaces of the dysfunctional Basquiat household. Not to mention that there is no place for the voyeurs-- aka audience-- to rest and contemplate, and no backtracking once one gets to the end.  Is there accommodation for those with a disability? I hope so.

 

I had entered on a press pass, but my cousin, a well known print-maker who adores Basquiat's work, had bought a $45 ticket without flinching. I pondered that price, and the opportunity to skip the line with me if she had paid $65. Price for seniors, students and military: $42 and for children under 13: $40. That's a whopping lot of money for a family, say. No surprise that on the day I was there, just about everyone in the gallery was an older lighter-skinned person, commensurate with where most of the privilege resides in the United States. The irony of this would not have been lost on Basquiat who railed articulately against economic and racial injustice. 

2 Comments
Post a comment

A Conversation With An Artist: Christopher Victor

Hammer Dance Installation at the Muroff-Kotler Visual Arts Gallery @ Suny Ulster
Photo: Courtesy Christopher Victor

 

Once upon a time, when I was very young and scoured New York galleries with my collector father, I imagined that artists spent their days and nights in the studio for the benefit of the collector, or gallery owner, or curator, and even if the artist was dead, none of my naive assumptions were less true because the whole point of collecting, according to my father and his art-loving collector friends, was beyond the joy of the work itself, it was for the value of the work and its monetary appreciation as the years passed. Nonetheless, somehow, the joy of feeling transported by visual work rooted in me. And I am thankful for that and my ability to discern what I like and don't like, almost instantaneously, and to parse what is mediocre and what is well-made. If there is a gallery or museum in proximity, I always walk into it. I deepen my enjoyment of art with every new artist I encounter and I talk to artists about their process whenever I have the opportunity.  

 

When I saw Christopher Victor's installation in the SUNY-Ulster gallery, I knew I liked his work right away. He was in the gallery talking to students and I went up to talk to him. He had been invited to install a show and give a guest lecture or two. The images were strong and I held them in my eidetic memory as I returned to the Writing Center where I work. I had already decided to visit Chris in his studio, if he was willing. Fortunately, he was.

 

I had driven my husband to the bus for a city day, my NYU term over, and I was thrilled to have an afternoon in the mountains, road winding, the GPS dropping out and returning, the trees turning to green. Chris and his wife, Rochelle, left Brooklyn many years ago and moved here; their home is an idyll. They're raising two sons and a boisterous puppy on land close to a stream in an open plan house with a deck overlooking a forest, mountains in the distance.

 

"I grew up in the country in New Hope, PA, where I walked barefoot everywhere and lived next to a stream. Now I live next to a stream again," Chris says.  His mother is a ceramicist and Chris spent many childhood hours in her studio watching her make art, and making his own.  Nature and art are contiguous in his heart and mind. Having moved to the Hudson Valley just over a year ago myself, I am beginning to feel that way, too. We are embedded in nature and forget this at our peril.

 

Has my writing changed since I have been here? Am I contemplating new genres? Has my voice and point of view shifted?  I am not yet sure. Certainly I have more time to read and write, and though I don't live in the mountains, surfacing from my apartment into the fresh air, the birds chirping, the mountains in the distance, the pulse of life is softer, which I am sure is good for writers and artists.  I feel freer, more at ease. And I only miss the city occasionally when I am here. My fast-paced, competitive urban self will never disappear, but at least it has gone quiet now, it's resting.

 

After art school Chris made props for commercials and still takes on assignments when he needs money. It's creative work, but not as satisfying as his own work, he explains, as he looks around his  tool-packed studio which is filled with found materials, works in progress, and finished work.

 

The term "careerist artist" surfaced. I had never heard this before, but it immediately reminded me of the way agents work these days. They look for young writers with two or three books ahead of them, writers who are willing to build a career attentive to shifting fads in the marketplace. And some agents consider themselves "editorial" agents; they shape the writer and the work rather than permit the writer to struggle for herself. Stories abound about these travesties, Gordon Lish and Raymond Carver, the most noteworthy. I can't imagine Chris allowing anyone to manipulate his art in this way in order to sell it.  "We're all creating our own wild places," he says.  And I believe him, or want to believe him. 

Post a comment