The focus of July’s Summer Session is celebrity, and for our first installment we bring you an article from our sister publication Art Practical. Here, Anton Stuebner reviews the first single-author, book-length monograph of Jean-Michel Basquiat, written by Jordana Moore Saggese. While acknowledging the “celebrity politics” at play in Basquiat’s career, Saggese’s critical look at his oeuvre and iconography asserts the artistic merit of his work over his fame. This article was first published on October 7, 2014.
The mythology around Jean-Michel Basquiat continues to proliferate in the twenty-six years since his death. The standard-issue biography of his life reads like a cautionary tale on the perils of success: the early years in the graffiti movement; the street art produced with classmate Al Diaz under the tag SAMO; the sudden media attention on the East Village art scene; the transition into formal painting and the overnight success of shows with Annina Nosei and Mary Boone; the highly publicized friendship with Andy Warhol; the meteoric rise of auction and gallery sales; the heroin addiction; the self-destruction at a preternaturally young age. It’s a story that owes much to clichés of the artist as tragic hero, reduced in equal parts through simplification and fabrication. It is also a story that sells art, and at record prices.