Jean-Michel Basquiat’s LA-made work goes on show at Gagosian

The story of Jean-Michel Basquiat’s soaring success, from subway graffiti to posh galleries in five years, is rooted in the mythologies of early 1980s New York. Since his 1988 death of a heroin overdose, age 27, Basquiat films, books and auction prices (along with exhibitions such as last year’s ‘Basquiat x Warhol. Painting 4 Hands’ at the Fondation Louis Vuitton) have only multiplied, yet one perspective has not been documented until now: the formative time he spent in Los Angeles. 

‘Made on Market Street’ at Gagosian in Beverly Hills is the first show to present works made by the young artist between 1982 and 1984 when he worked for extensive periods of time at a studio in Larry Gagosian’s house in Venice, California, and later at a studio down the block, both walking distance to the Pacific. 

Organised by Fred Hoffman, who worked with the artist to produce a series of prints through his New City Editions in Venice and Gagosian, who gave the artist his second solo show (after his first with Annina Nosei in New York), the exhibition features an impressive 24 of the 100 paintings made during the artist’s LA sojourns as well as his drawings and prints.

Jean-Michel Basquiat: Made on Market Street at Gagosian LA

basquiat colourful pictures

Jean-Michel Basquiat, ‘Made on Market Street’, 2024, installation view

(Image credit: © Estate of Jean-Michel Basquiat. Courtesy Gagosian. Artwork © Estate of Jean-Michel Basquiat. Licensed by Artestar, New York. Photo: Jeff McLane)

Having invited Basquiat to come stay at his house in November of 1982, Gagosian found himself hanging out with the dynamic 22-year-old and his girlfriend, a then unknown Madonna. ‘Los Angeles has always been a great city for artists… the immensity of his talent was immediately apparent,’ Gagosian says. 

The 1983 painting Hollywood Africans conveys Basquiat’s first impressions of the city with cartoon-like portraits of artists Toxic and Rammellzee taking in such sites as the star-studded sidewalk known as the Walk of Fame. All are covered in swathes of yellow paint, the sunshine of the city. It was bought by producer Doug Cramer, who later gave it to the Whitney Museum which loaned it back to LA for the show. 

basquiat colourful picture

Jean-Michel Basquiat, Hollywood Africans, 1983. Acrylic and oil stick on canvas

(Image credit: © Estate of Jean-Michel Basquiat. Courtesy Gagosian. Whitney Museum of American Art, New York; gift of Douglas S. CramerLicensed by Artestar, New York. Photo: © Whitney Museum of American Art/Licensed by Scala/Art Resource, NY)

Hoffman helped Basquiat translate his spontaneous methods of combining drawing, collage and painting to make large-scale prints including the 1983 Tuxedo. The artist used a photographic transfer to ensure that the silkscreen of his original would be printed in reverse so that the colour black was dominant, especially at nine by five feet. A white crown tops lists of complex writings and upward-pointing arrows. ‘Basquiat’s aesthetic decisions were his means of questioning certain social and cultural assumptions, with identity most important among them,’ writes Hoffman in the exhibition catalogue.

Hoffman also introduced Basquiat to Robert Rauschenberg who was working at Gemini GEL, the publisher that regularly brought renowned East Coast artists west to make prints and multiples. Basquiat looked to Rauschenberg as an artist who had influenced his own use of wooden doors and detritus in his paintings. 

Archive image of a young Larry Gagosian and Jean-Michel Basquiat

Larry Gagosian and Jean-Michel Basquiat c. 1982

(Image credit: Courtesy of Gagosian)

On his second trip to LA, Basquiat had an old fence behind his Venice studio removed and used the wood slats as support for a trio of paintings depicting grinning African royals. They are brought together for the first time since they were made. For Gold Griot, the wood was slathered with luminous gold paint. It was bought out of the studio by Eli and Edye Broad. It is now one of 13 Basquiats in their eponymous LA Broad museum, and another of the museum loans to this exhibition. 

Coincidentally, Basquiat is the big draw at Luna Luna, an amusement park originally created by artists in 1987 in Hamburg and now resurrected by the musician Drake in downtown LA. Originally, artist André Heller had invited a grab bag of big-name artists to make rides or attractions for children. David Hockney and Salvador Dalí, hipsters Keith Haring and Kenny Scharf all made pieces but the biggest star is Basquiat. A white ferris wheel was decorated by Basquiat with his incisive, sexually charged, irreverent paintings and poetic texts. One of the last works of his short career, it spins around to the tune ‘Tutu’ by Miles Davis, one of Basquiat’s idols.

‘Made on Market Street’ is on show at Gagosian LA until 1 June 2024

gagosian.com

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