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Posts Tagged ‘Jean-Michel Basquiat’

Crossroads of the (Art) World

October 10, 2012 | by

Views of the Time Square Show (organized by Colab), 1980. Photo collage by Terise Slotkin

At what date on the calendar, at what precise location, did counterculture become pop culture? And who do we mark down in the history books as the hero, or the villain, who masterminded the switch? There is an answer: “The Times Square Show.” In June of 1980, more than a hundred artists, under the auspice and directed by the vision of Colab (Collaborative Projects), took over a four-story building on Forty-first Street and Seventh Avenue and mounted a two-month exhibition. There were big names: Tom Otterness, Jean-Michel Basquiat, Kiki Smith, Jenny Holzer, Kenny Scharf, Nan Goldin. But, already, this is a wrong turn; the notion of individual heroism, of the creative ego that strives for and achieves recognition—in other words, a modernist view of the artist—is an anachronistic way to view “The Times Square Show.”

Time Square Show (organized by Colab), map of the first and second floors with list of participating artists. Floor plan by Tom Otterness, notations by John Ahearn

The idea behind “The Times Square Show” was different: a collaborative, self-curated, self-generated group show that transcended trappings of class and cultures. As John Ahearn, a Colab initiator who spotted the location on a Times Square jaunt with Tom Otterness, told the East Village Eye, “Times Square is a crossroads. A lot of different kinds of people come through here. There is a broad spectrum, and we are trying to communicate with society at large.” Ahearn went on to tell the Eye, “There has always been a misdirected consciousness that art belongs to a certain class or intelligence. This show proves there are no classes in art, no differentiation.”

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Period Piece: Rammellzee and the End

April 18, 2012 | by

Gash-o-lear, 1989–98, mixed-media sculpture with wireless sound system, keyboard gun, pyrotechnic jawbreaker, and missile launcher, approx. 7'. Courtesy The Suzanne Geiss Company, New York

In January 1940, a German double agent warned the FBI, “Watch out for the dots! Lots and lots of little dots.” During World War II, German Abwehr agents used microphotography to reduce classified military documents down to a dot, entrusting the period with sensitive intelligence such as tank specs and bomb sites, as well as meeting coordinates, a time and a place. Administered to the page by syringe, the dot traveled under the guise of punctuation and was then enlarged by its recipient—blown up in a world that would ultimately be reduced to rubble. The end of the line harbored secrets.

To an aerosol artist like Rammellzee, this would be the last stop on the A train in Far Rockaway, Queens, where he sprayed his first tag back in the late seventies. The letters—EG—stood for “Evolution Griller.” I once shared the dot’s steganographic past with this Queens-born rapper/letter engineer, a man once described as “micro” for his detailing of subway cars and history. Rammellzee had no time for punctuation, but all night for talking military engineering, tanks, dentistry, deep-sea bends, gangster ducks, and loaded symbols. Hunched over a beer inside the Battle Station, his Tribeca loft, he asked if I was with the Defense Department and grumbled, “Too much information in the room is not good policy.” Under his baleful watch, the only time a sentence called for a period was when declaring the end of an era. With Rammellzee, a single thought—often concerning the welfare of the alphabet—might span centuries: from Visigoth invasions to Panzer battalions to a subway tunnel beneath an African slave cemetery to a band from Buffalo called Robot Has Werewolf Hand. All between a burp and a nod, from a polymath who referred to himself as an equation.

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Good-Bye to All That: The Basquiat Cult

September 24, 2010 | by

Jean-Michel Basquiat, from “Tuxedo,” in issue 87, Spring 1983.

Jean-Michel Basquiat would be turning fifty years old this fall. Instead, he has been dead for twenty-two years, the victim, at twenty-seven, of a 1988 heroin overdose the art world witnessed more or less firsthand. Basquiat’s crack-up begat a frenzy of speculation that drove that decade’s art-market crash (since the rise of the contemporary auction ecosystem, there seems to be about one every decade). His funeral reportedly featured more art dealers than mourners; Jeffrey Deitch—now the director of LA MoCA, then the high-flying founder of Citibank’s art-advising arm—gave the eulogy. According to Phoebe Hoban’s detailed account in her unsparing book Basquiat: A Quick Killing in Art, the ruined artist left behind “917 drawings, 25 sketchbooks, 85 prints, and 171 paintings.” That, and a counterfeit fable of overnight sensation for biographers, filmmakers, and groupies to pore over. Read More »

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