The Guggenheim’s Basquiat Exhibit Thrills
#GuggTuesdays at New York’s Solomon Guggenheim museum are officially lit. If you haven’t made your way over to the venue to scope out the amazing artwork, you’re in luck. Many of the exhibits run through the fall. As we made our way through the line, @NuevaYorka and I could barely contain our excitement.
One of the highlights of the current selections is Basquiat’s “Defacement”: The Untold Story. Situated on the 7th level, atop the enchanting spiral of Frank Lloyd Wright’s architectural feat, the entrance leading into the exhibit is filled with mystique. The display is part of a special series, which according to the museum, feature ‘six takes on the Guggenheim collection.’
We made our way through the corridor and were treated to an expertly curated selection of Basquiat’s awe-inspiring work, including the poignant piece, The Death of Michael Stewart, which he painted in 1983. To understand the cultural significance of the artwork, one has to understand the context from which it derives its very existence:
“It could have been me. It could have been me.”These were the words uttered by painter Jean-Michel Basquiat, who was deeply shaken after he heard the story of a black graffiti artist who was beaten to death by New York City police. Seeing his own life reflected in the death of a fellow artist, Basquiat went on to create Defacement (The Death of Michael Stewart), not only to commemorate the young man’s death, but also to challenge the state-sanctioned brutality that men of color could face for pursuing their art in public spaces.
Jean-Michel lived at the intersection of multiple identities. His father, Gerard, was born in Haiti. His mother, Matilde, in Puerto Rico. He existed as a Black artist in New York, equally Afro and Latino in a time when the term Afro-Latinx was a non-existent label in the wider lexicon. He was brilliant. He defied convention in all ways. His widow, Suzanne Mallouk, whose personal narrative was captured by Jennifer Clement, spoke of Basquiat’s mind via his sexuality in this way:
It was clear that his sexual interest was not monochromatic. It did not rely on visual stimulation, such as a pretty girl. It was a very rich multichromatic sexuality. He was attracted to people for all different reasons. They could be boys, girls, thin, fat, pretty, ugly. It was, I think, driven by intelligence. He was attracted to intelligence more than anything and to pain. He was very attracted to people who silently bore some sort of inner pain as he did, and he loved people who were one of a kind, people who had a unique vision of things.
Through this complexity and dynamism, he is proof that no moniker can truly contain all of who we are. From that vantage point he gifted to us compelling art.
While the current political climate in America sizzles like a skillet at the Casa Adela kitchen, Basquiat is demanding of us as he did in 1983 to reckon with not just the violent death of Michael Stewart at the hands of the NYPD, but also to grapple with this country’s legacy of state sanctioned violence. The nation, founded on the theft of land and slaughter of Indigenous peoples, as well as the kidnapping and subsequent enslavement of Africans, has far too many unidentified caskets of persons of color upon which it’s built quite the home for itself.
For those of us living in the neighborhood, we have watched with horror at how racial bias has worked in conjunction with government policies to reinforce white supremacist power structures. In this vein, the arm of the law flexes in order to serve and protect the interests of those higher up the social ladder. As this occurs, we are seemingly rendered powerless. It is during these crucial times, we rely on the voices of artists to articulate our fears and angst.
This conversation was further expanded from the gallery space to the basement of the museum as we made our way to the theater to watch a presentation of Spike Lee’s “Do The Right Thing.” The juxtaposition of the two in relation to the broad conversation is perfect, and makes the case for the power of art in order to draw attention to social crisis.
The result is not just an entertaining evening out, but also a thrilling engagement with the necessary but often ignored aspect of marginalized communities: our humanity. The installation was guest curated by Chaédria LaBouvier, and runs from now until November 6th, 2019.
You can peep our video journey on the @thereallatinx IG.
Get your tickets here. I highly recommend you go.
Photo Gallery Credit: @pursuingarete