A Vivid Burst of Basquiat



A colorful and emotional new exhibit of Jean-Michel Basquiat’s will be on display on the Upper East Side until May 31.


The Brant Foundation quickly sold out of its 50,000 tickets to its new Jean-Michel Basquiat gallery earlier this month. Fans needn’t despair, though, because the Nahmad Contemporary Gallery, located on the Upper East Side at 76th Street and Madison Avenue, has opened its own free Basquiat gallery. The exhibit focuses on Basquiat’s work made with Xerox photocopies and runs until May 31.

The moment you step into the gallery, you are greeted with neo-expressional and primitive works, slapping you across the face. No handshakes here.

Throughout the exhibit, abstract portrayals of the human body combine with emotional, and even violent, depictions of everyday words and objects wrapped in vivid colors. If you look close enough, you’ll notice tribal and Egyptian motifs sprinkled throughout the works. While the whole exhibit conveys intense emotional aggression and passion, it gives the impression that anyone — even a child — could create it. This juxtaposition of these two attributes is perhaps the most refreshing aspect of this gallery and of Basquiat’s work.

Seeing as all of Basquiat’s work is rather eccentric, it’s hard to pick out which piece is the most unique. Each piece is comprised of a string of smaller pieces, drawings, words and scribbles. My favorite section was a corner of a large piece with a doodle of a plant and a title reading “How To Remove Sunlight.” It’s a combination of dark, quirky and rather normal art. Perhaps the most striking pieces are those featuring tribal like drawings of faces, decorated with vibrant colors and childlike drawings.

The gallery offers more than intriguing artwork. Along with the pieces on the wall, I found myself viewing the people in the space around me, a rather unique experience to have at an art gallery. I typically know what to expect when going to a gallery or art museum. A bunch of people crowd around pieces, staring, analyzing pretentiously and discussing interpretations of what they’ve just consumed. But this wasn’t the case at Nahmad. It was just as much a social gathering as it was a celebration of artwork. There was none of the desolate silence usually encountered at galleries; the room was filled with people chatting, laughing and taking lots of photos and selfies.

Not only was the crowd energized, but it was diverse. It was fortifying to see so many different types of people, of different ages and races, all come together in the name of art. This, of course, is thanks to Basquiat and all he has come to represent. Not only have he and his artwork achieved icon status, but his life and career trajectory show people the power of individuality. He was a black man who started as a graffiti artist in the Lower East Side and integrated social commentary into art pieces as part of the neo-expressionism movement. He challenged society’s norms.  Basquiat has been regularly mentioned in rap lyrics, referenced in movies and books and has been featured in clothing collections with Uniqlo and Urban Outfitters. He is a staple in the cultural zeitgeist, and the crowds that show up to view his art reflect that.

Even if you’re not an art fan or find the art world annoyingly ostentatious, I challenge you to stop by the Nahmad Contemporary Gallery and take a look at this Basquiat exhibit while it’s running. You might be surprised. Basquiat creates art for the everyday person, and I believe that there is something in his work for everyone. If nothing else, come for the art, and stay for the people.