Jean-Michel Basquiat: King Pleasure

Thirty five years after his death at age 27, Jean-Michel Basquiat is still everywhere. Following a run in New York, the exhibition “Jean-Michel Basquiat: King Pleasure” is currently on display through January 1st at The Grand LA. Luckily, we were able to catch it while we were in the area. Organized and curated by Basquiat’s sisters Lisane Basquiat and Jeanine Heriveaux, the show is made up of over 200 never-before seen paintings, sketches, sculpture, books, and ephemera owned by the family. According to Lisane, the concept of the show is to bring Basquiat’s “work and personality forward, in a way only we can, for people to immerse themselves in. We want this to be an experimental and multi-dimensional celebration of Jean-Michel’s life”. And that’s exactly what it is.

The 15,000-square-foot-plus space was designed as a suite of nested, wood-clad rooms divided into three spaces representative of Basquiat’s life: the living and dining room of his childhood home in Boerum Hill, Brooklyn, his Great Jones Street studio, and the Palladium nightclub. It felt welcoming and accessible for us coming fresh from massive museums and white-cube gallery spaces. The show’s design is an ideal reflected in its pointedly un-didactic wall texts.

The Boerum Hill home replica is quaint and homey. It includes authentic ephemera like Basquiat’s bicycle, a refrigerator door that he turned into a canvas, childhood drawings that are displayed alongside his birth announcement, and family photos, home movies, plus many more personal artifacts. The Great Jones studio was one of the most interesting parts of the installation as it served as a backdrop for animated projections of Basquiat’s handwritten note. While viewing this installation, the background music was set to period music such as Blondie’s “Call Me” and Diana Ross’ “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough”. Turns out, the estate has partnered with Spotify on a suite of playlists titled “Listen Like Basquiat” which ultimately offers surprisingly intimate touch.

While some of us find Basquiat’s work ordinary through the screens of our phones, we discovered that seeing his art in real life reveals his genius in bare-wire ferocity both in composition and temperament. And this was evident in the massive canvases he painted in 1985 for the VIP Room at the downtown nightclub Palladium. These monumental paintings mark the exhibition’s finale and are presented in a lounge-type space that’s tailored for hosting after-hour parties and events.

Overall, “Jean-Michel Basquiat: King Pleasure” is, in many ways, a visceral, intimate retrospective that explores the breadth and depth of Basquiat’s art. It certainly evoked a bittersweet feeling of experiencing the magnitude of his work and life that was tragically cut short. However, the exhibit ends on a positive note as it celebrates and re-lives Basquiat’s life. We left reading something from the gallery placard that moved us, “He was a huge energy entering this world”, it said. And having seen his works through a personal lens, it’s good to know that his art will continue to blaze through time.

Jean-Michel Basquiat: King Pleasure Los Angeles, California. Exhibit runs until January 1, 2024