August 2, 2010

Basking in Basquiats


Jean-Michel Basquiat,"Tenor,' 1985, © The Estate of Jean-Michel Basquiat. Private collection (courtesy Galerie Bruno Bischofberger, Z├╝rich) 

For the rest of the month, posting will be slow as I finish up summer projects and begin to prepare new course materials for the fall semester. In addition to developing a new course in the First Year Program, I've selected new textbooks for my other courses, which always requires retooling the same old same old. Nonetheless, I wanted to point out Alice Gregory's review of Jean-Michel Basquiat: The Radiant Child at Idiom. It's a new documentary from Tamra Davis, director of Billy Madison, Half Baked, and Crossroads. Gregory likes the film and suggests that the "primary, though perhaps unintentional, success of the film  is the extent to which Davis is able to capture Basquiat’s genius."  Gregory continues:  "Davis claims to have wanted 'to make a film that wasn’t just a biography,' but one that 'when you watched it, you actually felt that you watched a movie, that you had an emotional reaction.' The Radiant Child undoubtedly draws an emotional reaction. But counter-intuitively, our sympathies are not garnered from the central interview, which, it should be said, is actually quite dull, but rather from the way in which the actual art is filmed. The work just looks so good. Davis indulges the paintings themselves, granting close-up detail shots and allowing them bleed to the edge of screen. The primacy of the art is somewhat surprising here, especially coming from such an uncritical, adoring, and personally invested filmmaker, and one with such an undeniably pleasing subject.

"It’s unclear whether the archival footage has been edited so as to exaggerate Basquiat’s charisma or whether Basquiat’s charisma is just potent enough to redeem even most throwaway of reels. Regardless, you half-expect his charms to subsume his talent. To locate Basquiat’s genius in that paradox of personality would be a misstep though, and one that he would hate. In 1981, when Annina Nosei offered him a room underneath her SoHo gallery to use as a workspace, Basquiat’s career transitioned from street to studio. He takes deep offense, however, to an interviewer who jokingly refers to him as an artist 'locked in a basement.' Basquiat, without a moment’s hesitation, responds that if he were white, he would be called an 'artist in residence.'" Read more.

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