BASQUIAT: When You Die, Can I Hang Nude Pictures of You In an Art Gallery?

BASQUIAT: When You Die, Can I Hang Nude Pictures of You In an Art Gallery?

basquiat

I’ve been intrigued by the life and legacy of Jean-Michel Basquiat from the moment I learned his name. The late, now globally revered artist, died in 1988 at the age of 27 from a drug overdose. I was still a baby.

In spite of the trove of paintings and drawings he left behind and the photos, articles and documentaries there are still more questions about his life than there are answers; which only enhances his legend.

Up until his death last July, Basquiat’s father Gerard Basquiat, guarded his son’s legacy fiercely.

Stephen Torton, the artist’s assistant between 1982 and 1983, told DNAInfo that Gerard’s tenacity helped send the prices of Jean-Michel’s art soaring.

“I think he did an incredible job of making sure his son’s work was not sold cheaply,” said Torton. “You could not publish anything that included Jean-Michel without his approval. … He really ran [Jean-Michel’s estate] like a kingdom. He wasn’t a compromiser and a sharer.”

[Basquiat’s father] tightly controlled his son’s copyrights, methodically poring over movie scripts, biographies or gallery show publications that wanted to use his son’s works or images. He also devoted countless hours to stewarding an authentication committee that reviewed submitted pieces of art purporting to be by his son.

Which makes me wonder, if Gerard Basquiat were still alive, would he have approved of a new photo exhibit by the artist’s former girlfriend Paige Powell that exclusively features nude photos of him.

Paige Powell photographed at the Suzanne Geiss Company.
Paige Powell photographed at the Suzanne Geiss Company.

A little over a week ago, after reading about Paige Powell’s Jean-Michel Basquiat, Reclining Nude exhibit, I decided to go to the Suzanne Geiss Company to see what it was all about.

Pre-opening press suggested that the photos would be intimate and the exhibit’s own title isn’t exactly subtle, but I was still a bit taken aback to see the gigantic nude canvases of the artist.

To her credit, Powell, a photographer and former assistant to Andy Warhol, captured a lot of images from that era. But these were supposed to be private moments with her partner. And yet here they were being shared with the public for no rhyme or reason, no story to tie them together other than Powell’s own assertion that Jean-Michel “would love these.” Would he? How can we be sure of this when he’s not here to tell us himself?

After walking around- and watching people file in and out of the gallery, I became uncomfortable. And then I got upset because the whole thing felt more like exploitation than a celebration of- or homage to Basquiat’s legacy or the love they allegedly once shared.

It reminded me of the historical practice of putting black bodies on display for others to poke, prod, gawk at and profit from.

But maybe I’m just overreacting. Maybe he really would have loved it.

Paige Powell’s Jean-Michel Basquiat, Reclining Nude is currently showing at the Suzanne Geiss Company until February 22nd.

Suzanne Geiss Company
76 Grand Street
New York, NY 10013

Paige Powell photo credit: Style.com (black bar added by editor).

  • Tasha B

    If these were pose-y and not candid, I could possibly understand showing them publicly, but it seems as if this woman has nothing of their relationship or time together that she wanted to cherish or keep close to herself. It becomes a spectacle more than anything and in a way discounts her contributions to the art world. On the other side, you get to see more of his down time/private life, only because by nature we are curious, but I think for most of us that have seen the docu about Jean, that you got a good enough of sense of who he was as a person by seeing and hearing him and by the personal accounts of those who knew him.

    • MissSuccess

      I agree. And none of the photos in the exhibit were pose-y…I was looking for some element of that. They just seemed really intimate and of course thoughts went thru my mind about whether or not he was even aware and coherent enough to know that these photos were even being taken.

      I’ve read a bunch of interviews with Paige and can’t find a reason to do an exhibit like this. And the timely of the exhibit, after his father’s death is telling.

      • Kimmy

        yep. disrespectful. hopefully, someone will do her legacy a bit better than what she has done to her “friend.”

  • Eazy Mac

    Great blog post! I may not be an “art” aficionado but this definitely does not feel like creative material.

    In another article, Paige Powell is quoted saying, “The photographs provide an intimate look into our private lives while we were together in the early 1980s. They are at once vulnerable and trusting images of our love and the daily life of Jean-Michel Basquiat,” Powell told ArtDaily. (Basquiat’s Ex-Girlfriend Paige Powell Presents A Series Of Very NSFW Images Of The Artist by Priscilla Frank)

    I guess I’m wondering why she didn’t show pics of herself nude, if this is supposed to show “an intimate look into OUR private lives”. And the timing of this exhibit is telling. If there was approval from the family, maybe it wouldn’t feel so wrong.

    • MissSuccess

      Great points!

    • Supreme

      Of course not her… Devils

  • HairGetsKinky

    Wow.

    One of my friends stopped by the exhibit as well and she echoed your feelings about it. Powell claims that she is showing “our” life and love but there were no similar photos of herself included. I’m not seeing what we are gaining from her releasing these images.

    • MissSuccess

      Agreed.

  • Shelly Leit

    I think exploitation is the perfect word. Add to that “greed”, because I’m sure she enjoyed the idea of making money off her nude dead boyfriend, who, lucky for her bank account, happened to be famous. I doubt he would have loved these.

    • MissSuccess

      Thank you for your comment and perspective Shelly!

  • Ann Walker

    I so agree, Eazy Mac. This is easily exploitation at the “auction block” of our times. Who holds the rights to our lives after we have passed? How upsetting, that so-called “loved ones” hold those rights in their hands–rights to notes, letters, photos, and other personal belongings–and shamelessly misuse them for selfish, tasteless, and often gainful reasons.

  • Supreme

    Ms Holey,
    You are right. What was the point of her exhibit? To look and stare at this man during your intimate times… “They” have done this with black people before. Put them on display for show like some circus act. It’s disgusting and now her pictures are conveniently on the Internet! It is quite sickening indeed.

    • MissSuccess

      Thanks for reading and commenting Supreme!

  • Kimmy

    Nah, you’re not overreacting. Opportunistic at best. Basquiat was a amazing artist, a genius– but it seems like he was just something to be gawked at in Ms. Powell’s eyes. Horrible.