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Writing the Future: Basquiat & the Hip Hop Generation Exhibit

Jean-Michel Basquiat's post-graffiti exhibit at MFA BostonWriting the Future Basquiat and the Hip Hop Generation Exhibit

Some of my most wondrous experiences have taken place at Boston museums - and this visit was no exception.  Get ready to be blown away by Basquiat and Hip Hop Generation at the Museum of Fine Arts (MFA) Boston.  I was, and still am.  I still think about it in fact.

Here's an inside peek at some of the powerful art that is a part of this impressive exhibit.  

Basquiat MFA Boston

Basically, the "post-graffiti movement" marked the transition of street art from city walls and subway trains onto canvas and into the art world.

Basquiat MFA Boston Fab Five

Art by Lee Quinones

By 1979, Lee Quinones and Fab Five Freddy were the only 2 remaining members of the legendary graffiti crew, The Fabulous Five.  This painting celebrates the legacy of a crew that had once painted a whole train (ten cars), even as Lee and Fab were beginning to focus on their individual art careers and smaller scaled surfaces.

Basquiat MFA Boston Thor

Art by Jean-Michel Basquiat

Comics and other graphic arts influenced Basquiat - a reference point he shared with Lee, Fab Five Freddy and other artists of his generation.  Untitled (Thor) appeared in the artist's legendary November 1982 exhibition at Fun Gallery. 

Basquiat MFA Boston Yellow

Art by Jean-Michel Basquiat (Hollywood Africans, 1983 )

This triple portrait of Basquiat and fellow artists Rammellzee and Toxic documents time they spent in Los Angeles together, while ruminating racism, past and present, in the arts and entertainment industries.

Basquiat MFA Boston

Close-up Art by Jean-Michel Basquiat (Hollywood Africans, 1983 )

Basquiat MFA Boston

"Powerfully prescient and vividly thought-provoking, this colorfully eclectic exhibit of painting, sculpture, drawing, video, music, & fashion will surely stay with you." ~Stacey Sao

Basquiat MFA Boston

Art by Jean-Michel Basquiat (Six Crimee, 1982)

In this depiction of six unnamed 'partners in crime, Basquiat portrays these friends' faces in crude strokes of black paint, obscuring their features to conjure the rampant racial profiling of black youth.

Basquiat MFA Boston

The halo, or crown of thorns above each signals both the innocence of black men and the threat of violent, racist attacks they face in this country.

Basquiat MFA Boston

Art by Jean-Michel Basquiat (Anthony Clarke, 1985)

Anthony Clark, known as A-One, launched his career as a member of Rammellzee's graffitti crew Tag Master Killers.  Four years younger than Basquiat, he looked to the artist as a mentor.

Basquiat MFA Boston

Basquiat MFA Boston Lady Pink

Art by Lady Pink (Yellow Building)

Basquiat MFA BostonBasquiat MFA Boston

Art by Keith Haring

Basquiat MFA Boston

Basquiat MFA Boston

Art by Keith Haring

Basquiat MFA Boston Blondie Rapture

Still from video 'Rapture' by music artist Blondie

Basquiat MFA Boston

Art by Keith Haring, 1984 - Acrylic on fabric and clothing

Madonna donned this suit for her debut performance of "Dress You Up" at the Paradise garage on the occasion of Haring's 26th birthday celebration "Party of Life". The outfit was designed by Stephen Sprouse and collaboratively embellished by Haring and LA2.

Basquiat MFA Boston Madonna

 

Beat Bop: Rammellzee vs. K-Rob Album Cover Art.

Made during the same period as the Beat Bop cover, Basquiat's "Untitled" demonstrates the artist's frequent use of a black and white palette both as a formal device and as a social commentary. 

By photographically transposing his ink and oil stick drawings on white paper onto screenprints, Basquiat turned "a world dominated by white into one where black dominates" as his Los Angeles based printer Fred Hoffman observed.

The imagery of "Untitled" interrogates the Western historical narratives from colonialism  and mathematics to music and movies.  A ghostly mask obscures the center of the composition upon which an incomplete crown (a symbol for power and dominion) reads as a dunce's cap (a symbol for social disgrace and rebellion). 

 

Basquiat MFA Boston Futura

Art by Futura, 1982 (Untitled)

Futura created this painting on stage during a performance of the first Hip-Hop tour in Europe in November, 1982.  The lines of its composition emerged directly from the music's beats, visually recording the raw energy of sound and enriching the audience's experience of the music with a vivid performative backdrop.

Basquiat MFA Boston

Basquiat MFA Boston

Art by Keith Haring, 1984 Untitled (Boom Box)

Music was central to creative expression during the 1980s, a fact artists reflected in their depictions of the equipment and instruments that shaped the era.

Basquiat MFA Boston

Art by Rammellzee 1982 - Evolution of the World

Together these 12 contiguous panels comprise a grandiose summary of graffiti's history and future.   They characterize its letters as weapons in a war against authoritarian control of communications - a role graffiti effectively assumed when artists took over the subway as a platform in the 1970s. 

Basquiat MFA Boston

 

Basquiat MFA Boston A One

Art by A-One: Test of Armament, 1982

A-One was just fifteen when he joined Rammellzee's Tag Master Killers graffiti crew and adopted the name that stuck with him for life.  His letters were distinguished by their style, in A-One's term of "aerosol expressionism".

 

Basquiat MFA Boston Lady Pink

Art by Lady Pink

Basquiat MFA Boston

 

Basquiat MFA Boston

 

Basquiat MFA Boston A One

Art by A-One

Basquiat and several of his fellow artists infused their work with African Diaspora practices and aesthetics to reconfigure Western modernity as they knew it. I doing so, they reshaped their lives on earth, their reach into the future and into the next dimension.

I'm still thinking about this exhibit days after having seen it, so I'm sharing a few videos about him that I found interesting.  I'm looking forward to going down the rabbit hole to find out more about Basquiat and his work.  

This is a short video from Inside Edition about how influential Basquiat was to Hip Hop and the generation of artists that followed.

This music video for 'Rapture' by Blondie features Basquiat as a DJ - he shows up at about 1:49 in the song when she begins rapping.  Fab Five Freddy and graffiti artist Lee Quiñones also make cameo appearances. 'Rapture' was the first number-one song in the U.S. to feature rap vocals.

Writing the Future: Basquiat and the Hip Hop Generation will be on exhibit at the Museum of Fine Arts Boston from Oct 18, 2020 - May 16, 2021.  Advance timed ticket entry is required.

If you are intrigued and looking more information, you can preview the accompanying exhibit publication here.  The MFA is just one of many amazing Boston Museums.  A visit to each one will bring it's very own adventure.

For more ideas on things to do in Boston and things to do in Boston with Kids, visit our handy guide to help you navigate the best family-friendly places to visit.

You may also be interested in finding out about things to do near some of the top local universities, like Boston University, MIT, Tufts, Northeastern and Boston College.

Stacey Sao has been the Managing Director of the family-friendly events and activities website, BostonCentral for almost 20 years.  She continues to enjoy discovering and exploring new places to visit in the Greater Boston area.