JEAN-MICHEL BASQUIAT

Fondation Louis Vuitton, Paris

PRESENTS 120 DEFINING WORKS

Current exhibition -

From 3 October 2018 to 14 January 2019

JEAN-MICHEL BASQUIAT Fondation Louis Vuitton, Paris

Black Basquiat Rising

You know my eternal pain, the primordial one, that actually started this blog? It's the pain of not seeing black faces at white people's places where I like to go: galleries, museums, opera, Royal Albert Hall etc.

 

Whenever I come back from trips to Greece, Iran, Bulgaria, Jordan, Romania, my first, instantaneous joy of "I'm home" lights at the sight of coloured faces at the airport. As the offspring of two races representative of two linguistic groups: one writing from right to left and the other one writing "return"; London feels as much "home" as it can get for a "To-there-and-back-writing person" as myself.

 

Last year 2017, though, there was an exception - Basquiat's exhibition at the Barbican Art Gallery (the article dedicated to this exhibition could be read bellow this one). This year, 2018, The National Portrait Gallery did it with Michael Jackson on the Wall. Both attracting pleasantly mixed crowds.

 

It so happened, that this October 2018, exactly a year after writing the first article on LAAF dedicated to the Barbican’s Basquiat exhibition, I was in Paris where I visited Fondation Louis Vuitton's Basquiat exhibition from which I bring two notices.

 

The good one; here, in London, plenty of black people could be seen present in the audience at black artists' exhibitions. Hence, in London we know exactly how to bring diverse crowds to the galleries. In Paris on the other hand, the only black people present at the Basquiat exhibition were the gallery guardians. And two young black men, whose presence did actually revive all my forgotten anguishes on the subject. Thus, on the matter of diversity in the galleries when artists of colour are exhibited, London scores better than Paris. The country of Fraternity and Equality is hard to be beaten racism wise.

 

The bad news is that very few temporary exhibitions in London could surpass the scale of an average Paris exhibition. The number of Jean-Michel Basquiat's works presented at Fondation Luis Vuitton is about ten times bigger than those exhibited at the Barbican Art Gallery last year.

 

While I was still marvelling at the paintings on the ground floor (of four floors!), an old children's rhyme started looping in my head "Voila comme je suis, voila comme j'arrose, moi je fais grandement les choses" - "This is how I am, and this is how I nurture, I do all things with grandeur" as the rain once said to the water-pot. And honestly, one could be content with the local scale only if one forgets the Parisian one. The explanation? Probably the national funding. In Paris, private Luis Vuitton Foumdation has to compete with publicly funded colossi as Grande Pallet, Petit Pallet, L'Orangerie etc etc.

 

Basically, if cities were measuring their balls using for a criteria the quality and quantity of publicly available art, London would be run out of the ring with a bleeding nose. Alas.

 

But let stick to the positive and count our treasures:

London is less raicist than Paris.

London attracts black crowds in its galleries when exhibiting black artists.

London's major galleries next step is to produce all of the future Basquiats. How? Easy. By dedicating a space, or a minimum number of paintings/works to black artists or art representing black people. Thus, black children will be taken by their mothers to the Famous&Black gallery at the NPG; or We Do Remember The Days of Slavery Gallery at the NG... et les voila the new Basquiats shining on the horizon, numerous and bright.

Don't worry, Paris won't beat us. No matter which artist do their galleries show, the only people of colour present in the galleries will be the serving personnel.

 

Last but not least, we have Black Earth Rising with Michaela Coel, Noma Dumezweni Tamara Tunie, Treva Etienne, Nicholas Beveney and eany other beautiful, black faces on the BBC. They have false blondes on all their TF1, France2, France3, Canal+, France5 etc etc.

JEAN-MICHEL BASQUIAT Fondation Louis Vuitton, Paris


Basquiat at Barbican Gallery September 2017 Or Basquiat in London. And some questions.

So many people at an exhibition I haven’t seen. And, boy, have I seen some exhibitions.

There’s no doubt that Basquiat is a fantastic artist - and one who answers questions. Particularly mine.

Lately, I’ve been questioning myself on the senselessness of the linear narrative. Can it be skipped? And how? This mind blowingly boring… word after word, sentence after sentence. Yet, here he is, Basquiat, deconstructively constructive, presenting the whole history of mankind in a single painting.

And, what a painting it is. Full of history and laughs, it reads ‘A BONE OF AN ASS’ at the top then goes on to list the characters of the entire Old Testament.

What a sublime, terrible eye and hand of a creator cuts through pharaohs, Alexanders and centuries with the swiftness of a hot knife in butter.

 

As I missed the press view on the previous day, I visited the exhibition on its first opening day instead. Did I say that I haven’t seen quite so many people at an exhibition?

What I actually meant is that I haven’t seen so many black people at an exhibition.

Not at an opening day, anyway, not at a press view, not at any day.

Not in London. Not in Paris.

When I wrote the opening sentence, I had genuinely forgotten to write the word black, even though I was thinking exactly that.

So, first I forgot to write it.

Then I wrote it above the sentence.

Then I scratched it.

Which made me think deeply, at length, and to no avail on the meaning of the written, then scratched, yet readable words in Basquiat’s art.

Or his repetition of words, names and images like they are in - Matisse Matisse Matisse …

 

Why haven’t I seen so many black people at other exhibitions? Does the lack of so many black people at other exhibitions mean that so many black people cannot associate with not black art? Why haven’t I seen so many black people at Wai Wai’s exhibition? Why were there so many black people at this exhibition? How do black people see this exhibition?

 

Why wasn’t I thinking of Basquiat as a black artist, before I saw all the black people in the exhibition hall?

 

Apart from the ‘lack of so many black people at other exhibitions’ issue, the new security measures taken by the gallery after the last London bomb attack also left me perplexed. At the entrance of the gallery, I was asked to leave my bag at the cloakroom. Ill prepared for such a demand, I was wearing a dress with no pockets. Therefore, I was stripped of all my identity documents -press pass, bank cards, telephone, keys. If a bomb had exploded - good luck deducing who's body is that.