Since his untimely death in 1988, the art world has endured a maddening obsession with Jean-Michel Basquiat. In the latest installment of all things SAMO-related, Gagosian Gallery's new exhibition examines over 50 works from the Haitian-American art star.
At 15 years old, the artist ran away from home and became a staple of New York City's underground arts scene. He began as a graffiti artist under the SAMO pseudonym, making critical and ironic quips with semi-coherent jabs such as "SAMO©… 4 THE SO-CALLED AVANT-GARDE." It wasn't long before Basquiat turned to painting, keeping his knack for re-appropriation, rhythm and aggression firmly intact.
With the charisma of a rock star, he cozied up to artists like Andy Warhol and even briefly dated Madonna. Yet his cultish personality only supplemented his singular artistic language, at once unique and patched together from infinite scavenged influences. Basquiat found fodder for his work everywhere, from anatomy books and ancient mythology to cultural fissures. Part uncrackable code and part instinctual expression, his works are simultaneously complex and simple, aggressive and naïve, which at the time cast the young artist in the role of a prophetic prodigy worthy of idolatry.