Andy Warhol and Jean-Michel Basquiat, Thin Lips, c. 1984–85, synthetic polymer paint and silkscreen ink on canvas, 77 × 62 inches (195.6 × 157.5 cm).

"Jean-Michel Basquiat. New York City" at the Chiostro del Bramante, Rome, Italy.

On view March 24 through July 2, 2017.


The Chiostro del Bramante in Rome presents an impressive exhibition of works by Jean-Michel Basquiat (1960–1988) chosen from the Mugrabi Collection, one of the world’s largest collections of contemporary art. There are about 100 works in the Basquiat exhibition: acrylics and oils, drawings, important collaborative works with Andy Warhol, silkscreen prints and ceramics produced between 1981 and 1987, a period of time in which almost all of Basquiat’s turbulent and anguished life and career unfolded. Basquiat played an emblematic role in the New York art scene during the 1980s, and he quickly became one of the most popular artists of our times. Almost thirty years after his death in August 1988, his works and his artistic language continue to fascinate the public all over the world.

“Dad, one day I will become very, very famous”. Basquiat possessed this “urgency” to make a sign, a gesture, a color, this insuppressible need to draw, to paint, to be an artist. In the early part of his career it was the walls of New York City itself that were the “canvas” on which he recorded the distinctive and indelible features of his art, walls deliberately and artfully chosen in the proximity of the best known galleries.

Appearing under the pseudonym “SAMO,” Basquiat began with Street Art, which he soon abandoned, emerging at only 20 years of age as one of the most famous and fêted rising stars in the world of art. His works drew upon a wide variety of sources; his expressive means created an original and distinctive language that was exceptionally scathing of repressive power structures and racism. Proud of his African-American roots, Basquiat imbued his works with such dramatic character, such energy and such a firm denouncement of social inequality, that he would open the way to future generations of black artists.

Basquiat’s artistic output synthesized abstraction and neo-expressionist figurative art and his hectic and incessant quest produced works of earthy, tribal, and devastating effect. He utilized painting but especially writing, a constant feature in his works, often its very fabric. Basquiat used and manipulated words in context as a graphic and significant sign—as lyrics to his own unique inner beat.

His inspirational muse was music—something he never relinquished and was always a presence in his paintings—and ancient Greek and Roman and African art. Among his friends were Andy Warhol, with whom he had a particularly strong intellectual affinity, John Lurie, Arto Lindsay, Keith Haring, and Madonna.

Basquiat died of an overdose at only 27 years of age—the seemingly inevitable outcome of a life split between genius and excess. Although Basquiat’s artistic activities had taken shape over a mere decade of time, in this brief period his frenetic energy brought him to produce a body of work characterized by a style and a spirit that have made him one of the great witnesses of his epoch.

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