One Sunday afternoon, Mom and I wandered over to the Gagosian Gallery in West Chelsea in Manhattan to view the Jean-Michel Basquiat collection of about 59 works gleaned from private and rare collections.
Despite being a fan of his work and studying his personal and professional history, I had not yet gone to see one of his retrospective collection and before. I had always found out about them too late or the exhibits were crowded with tourists or two far out of the way.
And I have to say that I was overwhelmed by all of the emotion in his work. There really is a different experience to seeing one or two works of art from an artist---which had been my experience previously--and seeing an entire collection of work from the same artist. There is also a difference between seeing the same work of art in print or on video and seeing that same art work in person.
I guess that it is spiritual, but I could really feel the spirit or feeling of his work. And some pieces were comical or cartoon-ish and child-like in spirit; and then many others were filled with rage and despair. And I could see and feel his hurt, his pain, his rage and his anxiety---and at times, it was a little overwhelming. This only made me respect and understand him more as an artist.
The final collection which included the works, “Riding with Death” and others were eerily tranquil and beautiful---a very sharp contrast to his earlier works. Through his work, Basquiat seemed to be at peace, perhaps with the finality of death itself. Historical sources, friends and family, disagree on whether or not he was looking forward to a bright future or an early grave.
His final art collection was my favorite, much to my surprise, though I can’t say that I would want to own any of it personally in my own art collection. I say this because I dream of owning an original work by Basquiat. However, I am now much more aware of how art speaks to me and I am now clearer on how careful I should be when bringing any art into my home. I have always been aware of energy and its source but I am now more aware of how that energy transmits and how it feels to me as a person.
The turnout for this exhibit was great. There were so many people there and a good crowd of black and queer art lovers. Among the crowd, I spotted Fab 5 Freddy (a noted artist, former host of Yo! MTV Raps and a personal friend to Basquiat) and Nelson George (noted author and filmmaker).
I am grateful to have viewed this collection and because it featured a good number of works from the majority of Basquiat’s years as a professional artist, I feel like I have gotten a good feeling for his work.
It seems even in death, Basquiat continues to mesmerize us with his brilliance.