Back in the late ’50s the unofficial initiation into jazzdom was a recitation or scat version of “Moody’s Mood for Love,” a recording by vocalese artist King Pleasure. Memories of those days returned during a visit to the massive exhibit “Jean-Michel Basquiat: King Pleasure” now on display at RXR’s Starrett-Lehigh Building on W. 26th Street. With more than 200 paintings, sketches, sculpture, books, and ephemera—many of which have never been seen before—this is perhaps as close as we’ll get to Basquiat’s diverse and always intriguing artistic vision. “We want this to be an experiential and multidimensional of Jean-Michel’s life,” said his sister Lisane.

Basquiat, who died in 1988 at 27, was as productive as he was inventive, his art a fascinating corpus of images and graffiti, representative of his first Samo brush strokes and words on downtown walls. In his studio, he was totally immersed in these creations, most often accompanied by the music of Charlie “Bird” Parker or the vocals of King Pleasure (Clarence Beeks), especially his version of “Moody’s Mood for Love,” lyrics composed by singer Eddie Jefferson and based on a solo by saxophonist James Moody. The song, we learn, was also a favorite of Jean-Michel’s father.

This extraordinary exhibit, with its winding and twisting galleries, is constructed in such a way that you expect him to appear, to step from the wall as he paints in one of the videos. Scattered in this realistic studio are albums, books, and works in progress, one practically covering the floor. In one corner a record player with LP resting on the turntable is motionless, though his favorite music seems to follow the long line of visitors as they stand agog at the endless elements of his life, and there are even old home movies with Basquiat as a toddler, already in possession of toys and playthings that would later morph into the tools of his trade.

There is a series of interviews with family members, including Lisane, Jeanine Heriveaux, his other sister, and stepmother Nora Fitzpatrick, all of whom were instrumental in mounting this fabulous collection. The exhibit, designed by architect Sir David Adjaye, is sectioned in a dozen or so galleries, and one of them, “Irony of Negro Policeman,” is one in which the most graphic paintings of police brutality were part of “Basquiat Defacement,” an exhibit that focused on the painter’s memorial for the slain Michael Stewart, who was choked to death by a police officer in 1983.

Here and there amid the engaging items are representational drawings and renderings of human anatomy, suggesting that when he wanted to he could depart from his preferred style, one that often blends cartoonish images with macabre skulls and clenched teeth like piano keys. The family has assembled a remarkable curio of Basquiat, enough for viewers to bask in for hours, and it will take hours to absorb this expansive exhibit and the attached Palladium barroom with pictures of the artist with an array of celebrities, few with the magnetism of Andy Warhol.

Not sure how long the exhibit will stand, but let us hope the timeless quality it emits will be available for all to experience Basquiat’s brief but consequential life, and if the exhibit moves on before you can get there, pick up the RizzoliElecta book that captures and extends the sweeping, magnificent assemblage of Basquiat’s boundless imagination.

For more info, visit www.kingpleasure.basquiat.com.

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published.