American contemporary art is not solely Norman Rockwell and Georgia O’Keeffe. It is not portraits of white women sitting on chairs or a canvas splattered with paint called “action painting”. American contemporary art is not solely Andy Warhol’s radiant colors bringing pop culture to life. Instead, contemporary art is Jean-Michel Basquiat, a Haitian and Puerto-Rican graffiti artist who was born in Brooklyn, NY and died at the age of 27. But he continues to inspire the rationale of modern art beyond the grave which can be experienced first-hand at the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston right now.
Writing the Future: Basquiat and the Hip Hop Generation is the densely curated exhibit of Basquiat’s life work that is featured at the MOFA. It is the first major contextualization of Basquiat’s work in relation to Hip Hop, futurism, and the black-american experience. Basquiat is iconically known as the leading figure of the post-graffiti movement in the 1980s. In a time where graffiti artists were perceived as delinquent criminals defacing the sides of trains and buildings, Basquiat was one of the first artists to bring street art to the exclusive world of white-walled art galleries. Best known for his yellow crowns and avante-garde faces, Basquiat interpreted Hip Hop culture and black language through epigrams and unsettled arrangements of drawings. Similar to elements of Hip-Hop, sampling the works of his inspirations was often present in his art. Superheroes Flash, Superman, Iron Man, and others appear numerous times in a range of paintings displaying his conspicuous influence from these fictional characters. Although fun to the eye, political commentary of classism and racism deriving from Basquiat’s experiences of being black ran subliminally in these pieces.
The MFA exhibit features an over 60-piece collection of Basquiat and his peer’s work. Art legends Lady Pink, Keith Haring, Toxic and Ramellzee’s individual works supplement the exhibit’s rendition of a key era of neo-expressionism. Each artist is essential to the essence of the exhibit because of their significant contributions to transforming the notion of graffiti and what constituted modern art.
Stanton turntables, a Keith Haring tagged jacket worn by Madonna, and old sketchpads and notebooks owned by Basquiat himself are a few of the many historic documents on display. Documentary film and excerpts from indie film “Downtown 81” that features Basquiat are presented as well. A carefully curated playlist of 80s Hip Hop and R&B surrounds the length of the exhibit attempting to re-create the vibe of the time. Interactive display descriptions provide in-depth information of each artwork through the convenience of your phone and can even be spoken in the languages of Basquiat’s descent - hatian-creole or spanish. Basquiat’s exhibit took three years to bring together and display at the MFA. Up until May 16, any lover of history will have the opportunity to experience the exceptional works of Basquiat and his peers. Liz Munsell, co-curator of the “Writing the Future” exhibit said, “Their supreme confidence in calligraphically and rhetorically defying art-historical unorthodoxy can only begin to be fully appreciated now—four decades after the fact—as their visionary contributions have become cosmically reverberant and revered.”