Basquiat: Boom for Real at The Barbican in London is the first large-scale exhibition in the UK of the work of American artist Jean-Michel Basquiat.
Housed within the Brutalist behemoth, The Barbican, this exhibition feels at home, surrounded by stark concrete reminiscent of Basquiat’s playground, 1980s down and out New York. Beady-eyed visitors will spot an original Banksy playing homage to the great graffiti artist en route to the spaceship-like gallery before being greeted by the greatest juxtaposition outside the main doors – a top city law firm with gleaming glass façade. But step inside and you’ll discover a world of bebop music, anatomical drawings and art over coming racism.
Spread over two floors, Boom for Real encompasses an impressive collection of more than 100 works, ranging from postcards, video art and even a graffiti-covered fridge. Meandering through the short life of Basquiat, from becoming homeless to being one half of SAMO© to becoming one of the most influential street artists of the twentieth century. Self-taught, Basquiat displays considerable knowledge of artistic styles, genres and medical history, however one of the strongest underlying theme of the exhibition is the systemic racism facing young, black artists in New York. Continuous references to slavery and the words “Sugar Cane” crop up on artwork throughout the exhibition, forcing its patron to really stop and think.
Regardless of artistic preferences, there is no denying Basquiat is seen as a symbol of contemporary art, political activism and social standing. He knew everyone worth knowing in 80s New York; from Andy Warhol to Debbie Harry of Blondie and though his life ended tragically early, his legacy lives on. Boom for Real revives just a small proportion of that life for all to see.