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Basquiat’s Notebooks On Display at Brooklyn Museum

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Basquiat’s Notebooks On Display at Brooklyn Museum

The work of Jean-Michel Basquiat is equal parts recognizable, fascinating and – when you consider how short his prolific career was cut – excruciating. Basquiat was the embodiment of a New York art scene that will never be outdone; the soul of the neo-expressionist movement, or as Vanity Fair aptly described, “America’s first truly important black painter.”

Despite his significance as a painter, Basquiat was much more. The Brooklyn-born artist was also a poet, musician and all-around creative mind. He was a gritty, self-made brand before “personal branding” was ever a necessity among creatives, built on pure 100% passion. And now we’re able to get a glimpse into his mind at the Brooklyn Museum, where his doodles are on display for the first time.

Basquiat: The Unknown Notebooks features 160 pages from 8 of Basquiat’s notebooks in which he scribbled thoughts and poems, planned larger works, made grocery lists and took down acquaintances’ phone numbers. Michael Holman, whose phone number appears on one of the pages, discovered several of the notebooks after moving into a room that Basquiat moved out of and sold them to a curator in the late 1980s.


Photo Credit: Hiroko Masuike/The New York Times

“Jean’s work is so valuable and so valued that just the note of one of his bandmate’s phone numbers has taken on the value of a drawing and being framed in a museum,” Holman told Newsweek. “I have to laugh at that.”

Holman and Basquiat started a short-lived band called Gray in 1979, and Holman recalled with Newsweek Basquiat’s magnetic energy.

“He was a realized being, kind of like a Dalai Lama. He had this presence of something superhuman, ultra-human, above human,” he said. “Around him, you were in this university, you were part of the school. You were just soaking up his aesthetics, his vision, his power, his energy.”

Art collector Larry Warsh and Basquiat’s father, Gerard Basquiat, worked with an archivist to extract the marble notebook pages in the early 1990s, a few years after the then 27-year-old artist’s tragic death in 1988 from a heroin overdose.

“What this show is going to tell you is that the notebooks are not sketchbooks. They are artworks by themselves, just on a smaller scale,” guest co-curator and Basquiat scholar Dieter Buchhart told Wallpaper* Magazine. “Just one word on one page would be as important to [Basquiat] as a large scale painting or drawing.”


Photo Credit: 2015 The Estate of Jean-Michel Basquiat/ADAGP, Paris, via ARS, New York; Hiroko Masuike, via The New York Times

The pages, displayed chronologically alongside 30 paintings and artworks, take viewers through Basquiat’s emergence from selling his artwork on sweatshirts and postcards on the streets of NYC to his coming of age, rise to stardom and high-profile collaboration with Andy Warhol. Sadly, his personal struggles with drug use and isolation run parallel to his success, giving the notebooks an eerie chill factor.

The Brooklyn Museum was Basquiat’s “neighborhood museum,” said co-curator Tricia Laughlin Bloom. The artist’s junior membership card is on display within the exhibition.


Photo Credit: 2015 The Estate of Jean-Michel Basquiat/ADAGP, Paris, via ARS, New York; Hiroko Masuike, via The New York Times

Safe to say, Basquiat: The Unknown Notebooks is a must-see show and inspiring experience for any artist, enthusiast, student or creative professional. Every creative mind has its notebook, and every notebook is legendary in its own right.


Photo Credit: 2015 The Estate of Jean-Michel Basquiat/ADAGP, Paris, via ARS, New York; Hiroko Masuike, via The New York Times

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