Image by Ivane Katamashvili
A new exhibition in New York pays homage to the work of pioneering artist Jean-Michel Basquiat, as well as the vibrant nightlife that inspired him.
“Jean-Michel Basquiat: King Pleasure,” which will be open until September, features more than 200 works by the famed neo-expressionist, most of which have never been seen publicly. The massive 15,000 square foot exhibit offers visitors an immersive and unprecedented insight into Basquiat’s life and work. The exhibition includes four painstaking reconstructions of spaces that played a central role in his maturation as an artist: from Basquiat’s childhood home to his studio at 57 Great Jones Street.
Among the replicas made by Sir David Adjaye, designer of the National Museum of African-American History and Culture in Washington, DC, one of the most breathtaking is a creation of the Michael Todd Room. The installation takes guests into the famed VIP section of the Palladium, one of New York City’s most popular nightclubs of the 1980s and 1990s. Although the Palladium was open to everyone, it held special significance for LGBTQ+ patrons at the height of the HIV/AIDS crisis.
The Palladium, which also exhibited the work of other influential artists like Keith Haring, finally closed in 1997. The building was demolished the following year after being purchased by New York University, and today Today, the location houses on-campus student housing.
“King Pleasure” marks the first time in decades that audiences have been granted access to the Michael Todd Room, which was in many ways the centerpiece of the Palladium. Originally built as a movie theater in 1927, the Palladium served as a launching pad for punk bands like The Clash before former Studio 54 owners Steve Rubell and Ian Schrager transformed the popular concert venue clubbing to capture the shimmering energy of all that is happening. new wave of the 80s. The Michael Todd room bears witness to this philosophy: in a profile from 1985, The Washington Post described its bacchanalian energy as a place where “every fantasy and every outfit fits in”.
But amid the “framed shattered mirrors,” “Day-Glo art,” and “neon faux fur” lovingly documented by the To post was Basquiat’s own work of art. While the rest of the Michael Todd Room is a facsimile, the vibrant red and black murals on display at “King Pleasure” are the originals, now returned to their homes.
Lisane Basquiat, the artist’s younger sister, told VICE that seeing the installation for the very first time brought back “fun memories” of the Palladium, including “feelings of nostalgia and warmth”. She described the Michael Todd Hall replica as “celebratory, fun and energizing”, which her family hoped to express by hosting the historic pageant.
“We also wanted to make sure to capture the festive side of Jean-Michel, which was a big part of his life,” added his sister, Jeanine Heriveaux, in an email.
The exhibit, which opened in April, was curated by the Basquiat sisters and their mother-in-law, Nora Fitzpatrick. In 2017, they began planning for a public exhibition in 2017, but after delays nationwide protests over the 2020 murder of George Floyd renewed their interest in the project. Police brutality and the plight of racial minorities in American life were key themes in their brother’s work, and they felt the time was right to revisit his massive contributions to the cultural conversation.
It’s hard to underestimate the impact and resonance of Basquiat, the son of Puerto Rican and Haitian parents who found his voice in art forms like graffiti long shunned by the art establishment. He sold his first work to blonde singer Debbie Harry in 1981 for $200 before becoming one of the youngest artists to ever perform at the Whitney Biennial, aged just 22. He found the embrace of pop art titan Andy Warhol and musician David Bowie, the latter of whom collected many of his works, before Basquiat died of a heroin overdose in 1988 aged 27. .
Basquiat only grew in influence after his death: one of his works, a black and red skull painted on a kaleidoscopic blue background, sold at auction in 2017 for $110.5 million. dollars. This sale was the highest ever for the work of an American artist.
With “King Pleasure,” the Basquiat sisters hope audiences can see the man behind the legendary legacy. They described the exhibit as a tribute to their family history, and what they appreciated about the replica Michael Todd Room was that the installation acted as a time capsule of the memories they shared together. Lisane described the New York club scene – whether it’s The Palladium or other venues like Bentley’s and Visage – as allowing them “a few hours a week to escape the world and dive into a loud music scene in a dark room, dancing, and having fun.
“It is important that this space be remembered both for its iconic character and for what it represents regarding the importance of enjoying life,” she said. “The world can be so serious.”
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