My senses of space and object permanence were altered after visiting the Jean-Michel Basquiat “King Pleasure” retrospective at the Grand LA, as well as the Keith Haring retrospective at the Broad Museum, Los Angeles. Both shows were breathtaking in scale, and being in the presence of the numerous personal works and artifacts was vastly enriching.
Experiencing both of these shows back to back on the same day was mind blowing, to say the least. The day started off at “King Pleasure” with 3-4 bus loads of teenagers who were waiting to open up the museum for a school discovery trip. Any complaints that I’d normally have must be dismissed because of the fact that we were at a Basquiat show, and there were a lot of excited kids there (including my 6 year old son). Basquiat loved kids, and I imagine he would have been thrilled to see their collective excitement.
The first gallery (of 4) we walked into was dark and brooding, feeling in some ways like an old film projection. It was very busy, so the pictures I took were mostly missing titles, and not respectable in skew or tilt:
There were so many influential works and family historical items in the first gallery. The curation and detail were evident in the presentation of the items and space. I was also particularly fascinated with the second gallery, which created a facsimile of JMB’s studio space, and almost felt like he’d stepped out to lunch and would be right back.
The third and fourth galleries represented other time periods in his life, each being after he had started to achieve further notoriety, and a demand for his work. The final room that paid homage to his Palladium install was breath taking. My son broke out dancing to the music under his huge mural-sized paintings.
Basquiat’s story is captivating and relevant today, he was a true pioneer that changed the art world and society forever. I wish his family had included some more information about his musical experiments, like with his band “Gray” back in the day. The Basquiat family should be commended for the work that they did, with love, to put on this show. It gave a much needed alternative critical prime lens, with which to view Jean-Michel’s creative journey.
After exiting the JMB show we grabbed a quick snack and headed into the Keith Haring retrospective at the Broad Museum, across the street. The first gallery was stunning in the visual impact of color, pattern, and artwork. It was a huge room, that scintillated with vertically striped fluorescent pink hues. This effect activated the blacklight sensors of the optical path without that spectrum even being illuminated.
Of note is his tribute to Basquiat shown above, titled “A Pile of Crowns for JMB”. I found this painting to be one of my favorites in the show for obvious reasons, but it also touched on how caring of a human Keith was, as this tribute to Jean-Michel showcased their friendship perfectly. The precision and application of positive and negative spaces in the pile of crowns is astounding. It has to be seen up close to be appreciated in my opinion.
I’d never seen Haring’s work in person before and was not prepared for the roll that scale and vibrant color played in his visual manifest. It was overwhelming in a different way than Basquiat. It had a particular strategy, and it was apparent that these works needed to be huge (at least some of them). His drawing that took up an entire wall, with only black ink on paper was one of the most inspiring things I’ve seen.
Keith’s work was varied enough to fill the space with paintings, drawings, and sculptures, which gave it that “creative world” vibe. I think any artist interested in an immersive experience is trying to emulate some type of feeling like that. I’d call it a Chromatic Revolution, and also a Drawing Paradise. Keith had a command and precision that was pretty amazing to see in person. There were also heart breaking elements depicted in pictographic iconography; images that I interpreted to be a reflection of pain felt due to a society that can be unkind and unforgiving.
As we exited Keith’s show, we were in search of bathrooms when we came across another gallery full of works from several masters. We viewed works by Lichtenstein, Warhol, Koons, and others. It’s hard to describe the sensation of standing in front of influential works by over a dozen artists - works that had previously only been accessible to me via printed reproductions or a lighted screen. It was amazing, and it would be nice to go back and have more time to stare and analyze the surfaces, and learn about artists with whom I was previously uninformed.
The combination of both of these shows, along with the main gallery at the Broad, has become somewhat of a whirlwind in my mind, and I’m glad to have a series of photos to help guide me along. I’d obviously recommend that you go and see them if it’s within a feasible timeline and budget for you. I’m pretty sure this is the only time in history that both of these artists have current retrospectives open, across the street from each other. Old friends, showing just across the street.
It’s hard for me to imagine the toll of logistics required to safely transport, store, and install shows of this magnitude. It’s also hard for me to fully grasp how important these works are, and yet they are also just material objects that were made by passionate and challenging artists. This passion and challenge can be felt in these shows if you are also an artist, or have struggled to manifest a vision.
It is humbling to try to comprehend that these individual’s works are worth hundreds of millions of dollars, if not more combined. I just got to stare at these things and take quick selfies with them. My eyes still work well enough and to see them in person gave me a better understanding than I could gain from the best art history books or art critic review. I saw them as a painter and they’re every bit as good as we painters would hope they’d be. Jeff Koons was slick, but these retrospectives were the real deal. They had the goods and they delivered.
This was a true “rock” concert experience, if you ask me. I was just brainwashed in a really good way. To top it off, I was unaware of the other contemporary works upstairs in the Broad Museum, which fully melted my brain after seeing the previous two shows.
Even though my son probably doesn’t really comprehend what he saw, he was there as well. Maybe there will be a little slice of color memory or design sense that comes from this growing familiarity with Jean-Michel and Keith. That wouldn’t be a bad thing at all, as we need more vibrancy and passion in this world.