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‘Basquiat: The Unknown Notebooks’ at the Brooklyn Museum

Brooklyn Museum to exhibit Basquiat’s notebooks

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It is a sketch of the artist as a young man.

One hundred and sixty pages of the late Brooklyn artist Jean-Michel Basquiat’s personal notebooks will be on display to the public for the first time at the Brooklyn Museum from April 3. More than just more than scrap paper, the eight scratch pads on show in “Basquiat: The Unknown Notebooks” are filled with handwritten notes, poems, lists, and sketches that offer a rare glimpse into the creative process of the artist at the height of his career, said the show’s co-curator.

“The notebooks are much more than just hand-scribbling,” said Dieter Buchart, who is also a Basquiat scholar. “They are artworks by themselves, page by page.”

The renowned artist was born in Park Slope in 1960, and later moved to East Flatbush and Boerum Hill. He died at age 27 from a heroin overdose, but nevertheless racked up a huge body of work and profile during his short career. Basquiat started out spraying graffiti on city streets as a teen, and graduated to galleries in the 1980s, quickly drawing widespread acclaim and fame for his paintings and mixed-media works. The prolific painter and Edward R. Murrow High School alum created more than 600 paintings and 1,500 drawings before his untimely death in 1988.

Basquiat appropriated pop art, comic books, children’s illustrations, and history to create unconventional images that undermined existing social conventions in a way that was ahead of its time, said Buchart.

“He took from everywhere that was around him, from artists, from Leonardo Da Vinci, from Cornflake packages, Hitchcock films, television, posters, everything surrounding him,” he said. “Like the public space that we are using nowadays with the internet. He was, in my understanding, a forerunner for what we are doing now — but without the internet.”

The notebooks in the exhibition, which Basquiat scribbled in from 1980 to 1987, offer a unique insight into the artist’s cache of information and influences, Buchart said.

“He would even incorporate phone numbers he would write down in his own aesthetic,” he said. “He did that even in paintings, noting down personal details.”

Buchart said the show, which also includes 30 other Basquiat works, allows the native son a chance to speak to the city and its residents once again.

“Reading his drawings, reading his paintings aloud, you will hear him, not just think,” Buchart said. “You will actually get a sound poem out of it.”

“Basquiat: The Unknown Notebooks” at the Brooklyn Museum [200 Eastern Pkwy. between Washington and Flatbush avenues in Prospect Heights, (718)638–5000, www.brooklynmuseum.org]. April 3–August 23. $16 suggested contribution ($10 members and students, free for ages 19 and under).

Updated 11:48 am, January 16, 2019
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