Tag Archives: Modern Art

Basquiat: The Unknown Notebooks

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Late in the 1980s, burgeoning New York art collector Larry Warsh acquired a series of eight, common composition notebooks from members of a seemingly-defunct and little-known band called “Gray.” Those notebooks sat boxed in a closet of Warsh’s Manhattan apartment for more than 25 years. Now they are on a touring exhibition from the Brooklyn Museum, with stops at the High Museum of Art in Atlanta, and the Pérez Art Museum in Miami, and the books are likely reaching a much bigger audience than the band ever attracted back at C.B.G.B.’s in 1980.

Of course, these aren’t just any notebooks. “Gray” isn’t just any band born in the Bowery. And it turns out that Larry Warsh is a damn good judge of groundbreaking art.

The sparsely-filled books contain years of hand-written notes by revolutionary artist Jean-Michel Basquiat and they seem to offer a peep-hole in to the mind of that unconventional genius. This exhibit presents pages from the notebooks alongside a selection of his larger compositions, providing the visitor an in-depth exploration of the Basquiat lexicon that is both verbal and visual.

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View from the Basquiat exhibition at the High Museum of Art.

Basquiat started the band, eventually called “Gray” with performance artist Michael Holman in 1979. They, with various other bandmates, played their ambient/industrial music at the usual downtown haunts, but with growing recognition of his visual artistic talent, Basquiat left the band in mid 1980. It was right about then his career seemed to lasso a shooting star and the artist struggled to hold on tight for as long as he could.

Surviving band members reunited to play at Basquiat’s memorial service in 1988 and again more recently for art happenings and music festivals. In 2011 they even released a “new” album “Shades of…” which includes cuts of  the late Basquiat’s voice and music.

GRAY – SHADES OF… from Plushsafe Records.

 

But this is about the notebooks…

View from the Basquiat exhibition at the High Museum of Art.

Since the beginning, Basquiat’s artistic efforts have focused on words and short phrases. The SAMO@ graffiti he perpetrated with school friend Al Diaz in the late seventies often seemed like excerpts of Beat poetry.

MICROWAVE & VIDEO X-SISTANCE
“BIG MAC” CERTIFICATE
FOR X-MAS
-SAMO©

Even after his painting evolved from street walls, to paper and fabric, to canvas and wood installations, these words and phrases infiltrated every aspect of Basquiat’s artwork. In fact they seem to be the actual essence of it, merely enhanced by the more visually dominant graphic elements.

Basquiat – Untitled, 1982–83. Oilstick, colored pencil, crayon, and gouache on paper mounted on canvas. Collection of Fred Hoffman.  Estate of Jean-Michel Basquiat.

This first major exhibition of the books displays 160 pages of the artist’s personal writings, sketches and notes, accompanied by other drawings, paintings and historical Basquiat ephemera. The pages on display often reveal a kind of evolution on many of the subjects he used in his more extensive paintings, along with those iconic motifs like figures, faces and crowns.

Page from Basquiat notebooks – Famous Negro Athletes.

Basquiat drawing – Famous Negro Athletes, 1981, oil stick on paper. Collection of Glenn O’Brien.

 

Basquiat developed a unique way of using language the way other artists used paint, or filmmakers use footage. The notebooks seem to be like mental scrapbooks for the artist to collect and manipulate phrases and ideas.

The exhibit presents them as “autonomous works” and not the “preparatory studies” of a sketchbook. But they do have a sketchbook feel to them, only these sketches are made with words instead of line and shadow.

This brings me back to the Beat Poets, and Kerouac in particular. On the back cover of my copy of the book: “Jack Kerouac Book of Sketches“, (Pengiun 2006), it says:

“…Ed White mentioned to Jack Kerouac ‘Why don’t you just sketch in the streets like a painter but with words.’ White’s suggestion is credited with helping to inspire Kerouac’s move to spontaneous prose.”

Here’s an excerpt from a Kerouac “sketch” in Massachusetts.

———————–

Concord River RR
Bridge
Sunday Oct 24 ’54
Lowel
5 PM
     A ridiculous NE
tumbleweed danced
across the RR bridge
     Thoreau’s Concord
is blue aquamarine
in October red
sereness — little
Indian hill towards
Walden, is orange
brown with Autumn
The faultless sky
attests to T’s solemn
wisdom being correct
— but perfect wisdom is Buddha’s

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Many of these Basquiat notebook pages have a very similar feel…

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Basquiat – from Untitled Notebook #2, 1980–1981 – Collection of Larry Warsh, Copyright © Estate of Jean-Michel Basquiat, Photo: Sarah DeSantis, Brooklyn Museum.

 

Just as other collage artists like Ray Johnson and Robert Rauschenberg collected little snippets physically from newspapers, letters and trash piles, to later assemble and re-arrange in their artworks, – Basquiat seems to have been collecting these snippets verbally instead. He collected them in the notebooks by writing them down when he read them, heard them, witnessed them, or just thought them up.

While many lines are filled with these intriguing collections of phrases, and developing ideas, other pages do indeed feel more like finished works of art on their own.

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Basquiat –  Untitled Notebook Page, circa 1987 – 

Collection of Larry Warsh. Copyright © Estate of Jean-Michel Basquiat, Photo: Sarah DeSantis, Brooklyn Museum.

Looking closely at the intricate structures of words and lines on the pages, one can hardly resist recalling the obvious influences of seasoned contemporaries like Rauschenberg and Cy Twombly.

Basquiat – detail from page of Notebook #4 – Collection of Larry Warsh.

In addition to these rarely seen notebook pages, some of the more emblematic Basquiat works are traveling with the show. These larger compositions, canvasses and collages add a pleasing compliment to the exhibition.

Views from the show at the High Museum of Art in Atlanta.

Some of the most precious little items in the show are the rare mementos of the artist’s life, such as the Brooklyn Museum Junior Membership Card signed by a young Jean-Michel Basquiat.

And the unforgettable Polaroid photograph by cohort Andy Warhol.

Jean Michel – Basquiat Polaroid 1982 – by Andy Warhol on loan from private collection, seen at The High Museum of Art.

These additions provide a much wider scope for viewing the artist’s work, making this a unique opportunity for both longtime aficionados, and Basquiat newbies alike.

As notebook owner Larry Warsh expressed so perfectly in an April, 2015 Q&A article for Departures by Laura van Straaten:

“No one can have a complete picture of the inner workings of any artist, but the words on these pages give us a glimpse of the soul behind this complex, creative persona.”

While I highly recommend attending this exhibition if you can, I can’t help myself from wondering what else Warsh might have stashed in that closet of his…

Tour Schedule :

Brooklyn Museum, New York

April 3–August 23, 2015

High Museum of Art, Atlanta, Georgia

February 28–May 29, 2016

Pérez Art Museum Miami, Florida

August 8–October 23, 2016

 

Links, Sources & Recommended reading:

 

Departures: “Q&A: Larry Warsh On Basquiat’s Notebooks” by Laura van Straaten

Financial Times: “Larry Warsh on his approach to collecting” by Peter Aspden

Gray History from the website of Michael Holman

http://plushsaferecords.com/

http://www.basquiat.com/artist-timeline.htm

The SAMO© Graffiti photographed by Henry Flynt

https://www.brooklynmuseum.org/exhibitions/touring/basquiat_notebooks http://www.high.org/Art/Exhibitions/Basquiat-Notebooks http://pamm.org/exhibitions/basquiat-unknown-notebooks

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TEXT AND PHOTOS BY LANCE ARAM ROTHSTEIN (except where noted.)

 

 

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La Biennale Sunday Highlights

After nonstop art excursions on Friday and Saturday, we planned to take it slightly slower on Sunday, but still managed to hit three worthwhile venues.
A morning photo walk in Castello along Fondamenta San Giuseppe brought me to a unique Chinese exhibit. “Indeterminacy” was a collateral event of La Biennale. This curated show included work from seven young Chinese artists.

The most accomplished of the work on show in this small, two-room gallery was by Zheng Jiang.
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Five intricate marker drawings on paper are presented by this artist. I originally thought they were color photographs shot through etched glass, but Zheng Jiang’s realist style works perfectly to give the sense of fading memories.
Look for more from this artist, and the others from this little show, in a dedicated post later this week.

 

Our main destination for the day was The Peggy Guggenheim Collection and their exhibition of Robert Motherwell’s Early Collages.

 

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This unique show runs through September 8th and focuses on his works from the 1940s.

 

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It was Peggy Guggenheim who led Motherwell to experiment with collage and this helped him to discover his own voice in the abstract expressionist movement.

 

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This exhibit offers a great chance to get up close an personal with the snips and clips Motherwell used to create these early compositions of paper. Compositions that would later influence his more well-known canvas paintings and printmaking.

 

Even though we promised ourselves we wouldn’t stray into the Venice Guggenheim’s permanent collection, (having seen it years before and hoping to spend the late afternoon relaxing at Lido Beach,) the lure of the Modern masters, and the iconic terrace proved too strong. We soon found ourselves joining the crowds to gaze at world-changing pieces by the likes of Picasso, Braque, Duchamp, Léger, Magritte, Kandinsky, Pollock, Rothko, van Doesburg, and of course my favorite: Mondrian.

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Mondrian – Composition No. 1 with Grey and Red 1938 / Composition with Red 1939

 

 

 

 

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The Guggenheim’s magnificent terrace overlooks Venice’s Grand Canal and allows you to sit beside an Alexander Calder sculpture while enjoying one of the most pleasant scenes of rush-hour traffic on the planet.

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After our abbreviated trip to the beach, and a leisurely dinner back in Castello on Via Garibaldi, we happened across our last little art experience at the Maldives Pavilion and their Portable Nation exhibit focusing on “DISAPPEARANCE AS WORK IN PROGRESS.”   Only allowed to view the works in the entryway due to an evening private party, we were especially intrigued by the interactive work of Patrizio Travagli concerning the memory of disappearance in his piece Pantheistic-Polifacetic.

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Though difficult to see in this photo, shot in the dark, cave-like room, Travagli’s sign instructs viewers to: “1) Photograph the Mirror. 2) Email the photo to the artist.” and then provides an address to send the pictures, which ostensibly will be presented in his Tumblr Blog.

 

Also in near the entrance was a large canvas by Wael Darwesh.

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Titled The Disappearance, it projects the feeling of a passing memory not quite captured. Like a dream you try to try to remember after you wake up but can’t seem to bring into focus.

Perhaps a fitting way to end our Venetian visit? The Maldives is an island chain in the Indian Ocean being heavily threatened by the rising tides of climate change. It is realistically possible that the seas will cover the islands within the next 15 years, forcing the entire population of Asia’s smallest nation to relocate. Of course Venetians are not unfamiliar with rising waters (or sinking lands) and also face an uncertain if less urgent predicament.

So thus we finished our trip to the 55th Art Biennale. And after a sleepless night of fruitful art-making myself, we caught a 4:25 AM vaporetto and cruised the Grand Canal in the starlight one last time, before returning to the real world, where busses, planes and trains carried us to cities that do not have major art exhibits around every corner.

But alas, memories were indeed captured, and I’ll be spending the coming days and weeks recounting them right here. So stay tuned for more!

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ALL IMAGES AND TEXT COPYRIGHT 2013 BY LANCE ARAM ROTHSTEIN FOR LABEAURATOIRE.
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Lichtenstein Retrospective at Tate Modern! Last Weekend to see it.

Do not miss the massively brilliant Retrospective of Roy Lichtenstein at the Tate Modern. It’s a blast!

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Running through May 27, 2013, this comprehensive retrospective is the first of its kind since the artists sudden death in 1997 at age 73.

The exhibition takes you on a journey through the evolution of Pop Art itself.

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Walk right up to Lichtenstein’s breakthrough piece “Look Mickey” from 1961 and you can bear witness to one of the most pivotal moments in modern art.

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It may seem trite today, but this colorful copy of a Disney cartoon led Lichtenstein to investigate the usage of the Ben-Day printing dot technique, which took him, and us all, on a wild ride, allowing us to question the pervasive impact of commercialism on society, and changing foerver, the way we perceive art.

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Lichtenstein discovered the simple complexity of everyday objects.

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He helped us look at the way advertising was infiltrating our collective mindset.

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Controversially, he transformed the seemingly insignificant imagery of romantic and action comic strips into an oversized mirror on society, forcing us to question our stereotypical and outdated concepts of femininity and masculinity.

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In some of his lesser-known work, Lichtenstein experimented with all sorts of materials and how they could be used in his Modern Art arsenal.

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Plexiglass, brass, copper and chrome intrigued him as a means of repurposing the materials of the architect and transforming them into stylistic statements of his own.

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The exhibition includes several cases of printed materials to peruse, highlighting Lichtenstein’s mastery of graphic arts.

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Throughout the 60s and 70s, Lichtenstein had his own artistic conversation of sorts with many artists from the past, re-interpreting the styles and subjects of great painters such as Matisse, Picasso and Mondrian.

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In his later years Lichtenstein grew more interested in sculpture and landscapes and there are some rare and wonderful examples in this exhibition.

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I’ve only scratched the surface of this comprehensive show. There are so many little (and large) treasures in this exhibition, I really hope you get a chance to discover them for yourself.

I’m sure Roy would be tickled to see how his parodies of commercialism have become so commercialized themselves. As Banksey pointed out, we must “Exit through the Gift Shop.”

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There you can buy just about anything with a Lichtenstein look, from tote bags to tee shirts and everything in between. And the line extended out into the gallery, proving Lichtenstein’s persevering impact on today’s capitalistic culture.

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This isn’t a criticism, it’s a celebration and a success story of one of the most influential artists of the 20th century.
Go now and take advantage of this rare opportunity to see so many of his great works all in one place.

Lichtenstein a Retrospective
Runs through May 27, 2013 at the Tate Modern in London, England.
http://www.tate.org.uk
They even have a cool App in the Apple App Store and on Google Play for £1.99

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All images and text copyright Lance Aram Rothstein 2013.