Curated by two close friends of the artist, Diego Cortez and Glenn O’Brien, 1981: The Studio of the Street focused on the most important transitional year in Jean-Michel Basquiat’s career. In the year 1981, Basquiat made the transition from working on the street to working in the studio. After attracting considerable attention in the Times Square Show in June 1980, Basquiat backed up his nascent notoriety with a wall of phenomenal works in Diego Cortez’s New York/New Wave exhibition at PS1, which opened in February 1981. It was in the middle of that year that dealer Annina Nosei offered Basquiat his first studio space of his own to prepare work for her group show Public Address, opening in September.
Basquiat first became celebrated for his work on the streets, signed with the tag SAMO. In the late ’70s and early ’80s, much of downtown New York was like a twenty-four-hour-a-day open art gallery, with artists like Basquiat and Keith Haring communicating with each other through concrete poetry and artworks on public walls. Because so many of the artists, musicians, and writers lived in close proximity to one another on the borders of SoHo, the Lower East Side, and the East Village, art was part of a daily interaction on the street corner.
But between the world of spray-painted poetry and the world of what Peter Schjeldahl called “New York big-painting aesthetics” lies the fantastic point of charged contact that was Basquiat in 1981. Marrying an exuberant spontaneity and art brut sensibility with a firm command of not only art materials, but art history, Basquiat would go on to define the ’80s neo-expressionist idiom and today remains its most compelling example.
This exhibition examined that charged point of contact by including works that show Basquiat’s progression from text alone to both text and image, from materials found on the street to traditional large painted canvases, and from pure drawing to his uniquely evocative hybrid of drawing and painting. Many motifs in the exhibition pointed to Basquiat’s early focus on the urban streetscape. Tenement buildings, doors, windows, fire escapes, and fender benders made up most of the content of these early works. Not only did the view from Basquiat’s Brooklyn backyard window shape the characters in these pieces, but many of the artworks were physically made of things he found on the street as well: scraps of paper, shopping bags, doors, and salvaged wood.
Basquiat’s exploration related closely to what was going on in New York’s music scene at the time, when New Wave musicians like Arto Lindsay and James White and the Blacks broke sound down to its basics to reinvent musical expression. Basquiat was doing similar things with painting and drawing: deconstructing work into disjointed symbols, paring down meaning to text and image, and uncovering the skeleton of painting by insistently bringing forward the drawing beneath.
Diego Cortez was the first person to bring the work of Jean-Michel Basquiat to the attention of the public. He not only included the artist in New York/New Wave but acted as his first agent and promoter. Glenn O’Brien met Basquiat when he made an appearance on O’Brien’s legendary public-access television show, TV Party, in 1979. O’Brien also wrote the screenplay for Downtown 81 starring Basquiat, one of the most important documents of the art and music community at that time.
March 8 - 11, 2018
We will present a special solo project by the artist JR.
Image: JR, Migrants, Walking New York City, 2015
April - May 2018
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76 Grand Street
New York, NY 10013
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New York, NY 10013
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