I mentioned recently that I found a bunch of old art magazine articles from the 1980s and early 1990s in my basement … it makes for some interesting reading from an art historical perspective, considering these articles are now 25-30 years old.
One in particular which is quite interesting is titled “The Business of Art” by Allan Schwartzman from “Arts Magazine,” published in November 1988 (“Arts Magazine” went out of business in 1992). Jean-Michel Basquiat had died only 3 months earlier, and the article was trying to make sense of how Basquiat might be viewed in art historical terms now that he had died. The article was accompanied by the picture of Jean-Michel Basquiat holding a copy of Jack Kerouac’s “The Subterraneans,” which was noted as being the gallery announcement for Basquiat’s last show at Vrej Baghoomian Gallery in April-June of 1988. Scroll down for more …
I vaguely remember the Baghoomian Gallery, and in trying to find out more about him and his career as an art dealer, I’m not finding much. I did find these interesting pictures, all taken in Basquiat’s studio sometime in 1988, clearly on the same day – we’ve got Baghoomian in front of unfinished Basquiat canvas, top right; Basquiat pointing a toy gun at his head in front of the same painting, and Basquiat with his then-girlfriend, Kelle Inman, also in front of the same painting. I find the gallery invite image especially interesting, though, in terms of Basquiat and his dealer, Baghoomian, promoting the artist as a persona more so than promoting an artwork from the show. Think about it – most gallery invitations showcase one of the more-important art works from the exhibition; but here, Basquiat and Baghoomian are promoting Basquiat as a beatnik, Basquiat as a “subterranean,” which in itself might be a play on the famous story of Basquiat living in the basement of Annina Nosei’s gallery.
Schwartzman’s article asks some of the same questions about the persona of Basquiat being cultivated, wondering if he would be remembered as the “wild child” exploited by the greedy art world? Or as the ambitious, young, upper-middle-class artist violating the system by skipping art school and having immediate fame and success? Or the artist who used Warhol for status? Or Warhol latching on to Basquiat to regain some glory? Was he a “limited season success, a one-liner?”
I think we all know the answers to this now, all these years (and auction records, and museum surveys) later. But it’s interesting to get this slice of Basquiat coverage only 3 months after his death, when no one was really sure what to make of the whole thing.