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Preview: Basquiat Boom for Real at The Barbican

Read Patrick Hamilton Courtney's preview of the exhibition that London's art community can't stop talking about...

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Set to be this autumn’s biggest exhibition, Boom for Real is the UK’s first major retrospective in 20 years focusing on celebrated artist Jean-Michel Basquiat. Patrick Hamilton Courtney previews the show London’s art community can’t stop talking about.

Exhibition Preview: Basquiat Boom for Real at The Barbican

Basquiat at the Barbican

© Edo Bertoglio, courtesy of Maripol
Artwork: © The Estate of Jean-Michel Basquiat. Licensed by Artestar, New York

Over the past few years, Jean-Michel Basquiat’s star has risen and risen, and the artist is now considered amongst the most influential and gifted painters to have emerged in post-war America. A pop culture icon tailor-made for the modern age, Basquiat’s art addressed issues of wealth, poverty, race, segregation, power structures, and politics – topics as relevant today as they were 30 years ago.

Despite being a dream acquisition for museums, galleries, and collectors across the world, Basquiat remains woefully underrepresented in the UK. There are precisely zero works by the artist in any of Britain’s public collections, making the Barbican’s show Boom for Real all the more exciting. An opportunity to better understand this esteemed artist’s life and work is long overdue.

Basquiat Boom for Real

Glenn, 1984
Private collection.
© The Estate of Jean-Michel Basquiat. Licensed by Artestar, New York


Basquiat was a product of the heady 1970s, originally emerging as a member of the informal street art group SAMO© who achieved fame for their graffiti campaigns across the Lower East Side of Manhattan. Before long he was using his art to experiment with new media, starring in alternative films and TV shows such a New York Beat with Blondie’s Debbie Harry, and most famously of all collaborating closely with illustrious New York culture-maker Andy Warhol.

By the 1980’s Basquiat had gained significant recognition and was staging regular shows on the international art circuit, before his enigmatic life was tragically cut short in 1988. Since then interest in the cult figure has only grown; this year an untitled painting sold at Sotheby’s for $110,500,000, a record high for any American artist living or dead.

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Boom for Real is an ambitious show set to bring together more than 100 works from collections both public and private, many of which have never been seen before on British soil. The exhibition will examine Basquiat’s painting and its relationship with the art scene in 1980s downtown New York, seeking to place it within the era’s wider cultural context.

Basquiat Boom for Real

Hollywood Africans, 1983
Courtesy Whitney Museum of American Art, New York
© The Estate of Jean-Michel Basquiat/ Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York/ ADAGP, Paris. Licensed by Artestar, New York

Highlights will include a reconstruction of Basquiat’s very first exhibited body of work, explanations and examples from his time as part of SAMO©, a glance at his relationship with Warhol, and a number of his most acclaimed works accompanied by new academic research and opinion.

Jane Alison, the Barbican’s Head of Visual Arts said “We are truly thrilled to be staging the first show on Basquiat in the UK in over 20 years. The creative brilliance and emotive power of Basquiat continue to have a huge impact and influence. This is a rare opportunity for visitors to see a body of some of his most famous and also little-known works in one place, and to see those works in the context of the New York art scene of the 1980s.”

30 years after the visionary artist’s death, Basquiat exhibitions continue to enthral audiences with their energy and dynamism. Boom for Real will be held simultaneously alongside the season’s other cultural blockbuster, a retrospective at the Royal Academy of Jasper Johns – another American art world titan. It seems this autumn we’ll be looking across the pond for our cultural fix.

Basquiat Boom For Real

Untitled, 1982
Courtesy Museum Boijmans van Beuningen, Rotterdam
© The Estate of Jean-Michel Basquiat. Licensed by Artestar, New York. Photo: Studio Tromp, Rotterdam


Basquiat: Boom for Real runs at the Barbican Art Gallery from the 21st September 2017 until the 28th January 2018. Advanced booking is essential, with standard tickets priced at £16. Members go free.