Since his death at age 27 from a drug overdose in 1988, Jean-Michel Basquiat has gained stature as perhaps the greatest artist of the New York generation of painters – they include, among others, Julian Schnabel, David Salle and Francesco Clemente – who shot to international prominence in the early 1980s. Canadians get to assess Basquiat’s stature up-close next year as the Art Gallery of Ontario in Toronto hosts what’s being billed as “the first-ever major retrospective of the artist’s work in Canada.”
The AGO announced Thursday morning it would host the touring exhibition for just over three months, starting Feb. 7, 2015. More than 140 colourful large-scale paintings and drawings, culled from public and private collections in Europe and North America, are to be presented. It’s an impressive showcase, albeit a relatively modest number given that Brooklyn-born Basquiat, sometimes called “the first African-American art superstar,” had reportedly completed more than 3,000 works by the time he died.
The show, simply called Basquiat, is curated by the Austrian art historian and critic Dieter Buchhart, who assembled another retrospective on the artist in 2010 for Switzerland’s Beyeler Foundation. That exhibition went to the Musée d’art moderne de la Ville de Paris, where it drew more than 350,000 visitors, a record. The Toronto show travels to the Centro Cultural Banco do Brasil in Rio de Janeiro in July, 2015.
AGO director and CEO Matthew Teitelbaum said in a statement: “[Basquiat’s] extraordinary talent helps establish compelling new forms of expressionist painting while confronting the most important and incendiary social issues of 20th-century North America.”
Son of a Puerto Rican mother and Haitian father, Basquiat first garnered attention in his late teens as an impoverished graffiti artist working in lower Manhattan under the pseudonym SAMO.
A few years later, he could number Andy Warhol, David Bowie, Madonna and Lou Reed as his friends. Paul Simon, Richard Gere, media mogul S.I. Newhouse and the Whitney Museum were collecting him, among many others. The New York Times Magazine featured him on its cover in February, 1985. Shows were selling out, with paintings going for upwards of $25,000 (U.S.).
How much has his stature changed? A year ago, Christie’s sold a 1985 Basquiat canvas called Dustheads for nearly $50-million.
Follow James Adams on Twitter: