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Jean-Michel Basquiat: The Man, The Legend

More than thirty years since the artist’s passing, Basquiat’s dazzling legacy is finally coming into the light.

About this episode:

Jean-Michel Basquiat was an iconic American artist who rose to fame in the downtown New York City cultural scene of the late 1970s and early 80s. By 18-years-old, Basquiat had already begun spray-painting tantalizing texts on the walls of lower Manhattan under the pseudonym SAMO. In the years to come, Basquiat would transition from street tagger to gallery artist, taking the world by storm. Today, Basquiat’s legacy looms over us, larger than ever. His images and symbols grace Uniqlo t-shirts and Tiffany & Co jewelry campaigns. In 2017, Jean-Michel Basquiat’s powerful 1982 painting of a skull was purchased for $110.5 million, becoming the sixth most expensive work ever sold at auction.

But has Basquiat’s pop cultural significance eclipsed the artist’s place in art history? During his lifetime, he struggled to gain acceptance from critics in the predominantly-white art world. And of the more than 800 paintings Basquiat produced in the several years before his untimely death, there are only two of these works available for viewing in a permanent museum collection in New York City. The vast majority of Basquiat works live in private collections, making them hard to access.

This week on Into America, host Trymaine Lee speaks with Basquiat’s former bandmate and friend, Michael Holman, about the young artist’s coming of age in 1980s New York. Then we explore the crisis of Basquiat’s archive with American art historian Jordana Saggese. And finally we take a trip to Basquiat’s childhood and speak with Basquiat’s younger sisters, Jeanine Heriveaux and Lisane Basquiat, to unfold their early relationship and a new April 2022 exhibitionthey are curating in honor of their late brother.

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Find the transcript here.

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