Basquiat: The Unknown Notebooks

Curator and Basquiat Scholar, Dieter Buchhart, Talks us Through the Artist’s Rarely Seen Works

‘One of the things which characterises his art, are words. Everything starts with the words,’ curator of upcoming Brooklyn Museum exhibition, Basquiat: The Unknown Notebooks, Dieter Buchhart told us about the prolific New York artist.

Opening from 3rd April, eight rarely seen notebooks created by Jean-Michel Basquiat between 1980 and 1987, will be put on public display for the first time.

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As a self-taught artist, Basquiat first rose to fame in the late 1970s for the aphorisms he spray-painted around lower Manhattan under the pseudonym SAMO©. Language was an early medium for him, and words are an integral part of the notebooks and the large-scale figurative paintings for which he is best known.

‘Writing a word is a line,’ Dieter explained to us, ‘the line connects with the words. That’s probably one of the reasons why these notebooks are so important. They’re not just sketches, because he formulates words. I call them concrete hip hop portrait poems. He forms artworks and it doesn’t matter the size.’

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Dieter told us more about the exhibition:

The Plus: What inspired you and Larry Welsh to make an exhibition of these pages?
Dieter Buchhart:
When Larry showed the pages to me, the amazing thing was that those notebooks were artworks themselves. That was actually the amazing thing to see. We’ve been working on this for two years. It’s taught me a lot about his line and how special that line was. It is a lot about the movement, behind the works. This show really brings new perspectives in.

TP: Could you tell us a little about the layout of the exhibition? How have you decided to display the works?
We show the notebook pages together with some larger drawings, and some paintings, which question and follow the same idea and principle. However, as it is a notebook, it gives you a number of pages, and we could only choose one side of the page to display. We leave the notebooks in exactly the way they were, sometimes contrasting the pages with larger pieces.


TP: What kind of impact do you feel Basquiat had on artists of his generation, and now?
Interestingly, he was never a street artist. He did his conceptual graffiti on the walls of downtown Manhattan. His goal was clear from the beginning, to be in museums and gallery spaces. I think there are a lot of artists who see the way he worked as extremely inspiring; this counts also for street artists. And there are a lot of other artists, museum and gallery artists, who are definitely inspired by Basquiat.


Basquiat: The Unknown Notebooks is on view at the Brooklyn Museum from April 3 through August 23, 2015