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Jean-Michel Basquiat

First American Basquiat retrospective to be held at the Whitney

Whitney director, David Ross, gambles on his political correctness

Jean Michel Basquiat, the former graffiti artist whose short and turbulent career ended with his death by a drug overdose in 1988, is the subject of a retrospective which opens at the Whitney Museum of American Art towards the end of this month (23 October-14 February 1993). It is the first occasion that Basquiat’s art will have been studied by an American institution and it comes at a time when David Ross, who replaced Thomas Armstrong as the Whitney’s director in bitter circumstances nearly two years ago, is under considerable pressure to ignite a new and visionary exhibition programme at the museum (see The Art Newspaper No.6, March 1991, p.5).

Dismissed in the last months of his life as a spent force who would not match the powerful energy invested in the compositions which he had created at the beginning of his nine-year career, Basquiat briefly recaptured, by the unhappy circumstances of his death, an image of glamour and a wave of speculation which pushed the prices of virtually unsaleable pictures to $500,000. But his work has been a spectacular casualty of the realignment of the contemporary art market, aggravated by disputes about the ownership of his estate (see The Art Newspaper No.19, June 1992, p.20) and concern over forgeries. Against this background of shifting perceptions, Whitney curator, Richard Marshall, has launched a bid for reappraisal with a selection of more than 150 paintings and works on paper strongly favouring the imaginative achievement of 1981-83, and excluding those collaborations made with Andy Warhol in 1985. The exhibition tours to the Menil Collection, Houston (11 March-9 May 1993), the Des Moines Art Center, Iowa (22 May-15 August 1993) and the Montgomery Museum of Fine Arts, Alabama (18 November 1993-9 January 1994).

Originally appeared in The Art Newspaper as 'Are we ready for a Basquiat revival?'