In the early 1980s, while his career was at its peak, New York City-based artist Jean-Michel Basquiat enjoyed a certain level of fame. He had already produced a sizable body of work when he passed very prematurely at the age of 27 from a heroin overdose. His work consisted of 917 drawings, 171 paintings, 85 prints, and 25 sketchbooks.
Basquiat frequently took inspiration from his Caribbean roots, his mother being Puerto Rican and his father, Haitian, as well as the rich musical scene in Brooklyn that surrounded him in the 1970s and ’80s. At Seeing Loud: Basquiat and Music, opening this fall at the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts from October 1, 2022 to February 19, 2023, art enthusiasts can gain a sense of the musical scene that motivated Basquiat, while listening to some of his original music.
It would be nearly an understatement to describe Basquiat as an audiophile. The artist had more than 3,000 albums in his collection at the time of his death, including jazz, hip-hop, bebop, classical, and opera. Beethoven, Miles Davis, and Donna Summers counted as his preferred musicians; music that provided Basquiat with ideas for his artwork as well as a way to relate to American society, the larger African diaspora, and his own identity.
Basquiat frequently incorporates music into his paintings in the form of sign, symbol, and sound. His work is filled with images of musical instruments and references to jazz, bebop, hip-hop, and rap in addition to opera and classical music. The exhibition, which includes more than 100 of the artist’s works, arranged a unique in-depth look at Basquiat’s career as a musician, the sounds that accompanied his mark-making, and the musical artists who helped inspire him, including Miles Davis, Charlie Parker, and Maria Callas, that also goes for Beethoven and the New York underground scene of the 1970s and 1980s.
The display provides new insight into Basquiat’s career as a performer and musician, especially with the band Gray, after exploring the music that influenced his New York. It examines his musical compositional methods as they apply to his paintings and refers back to his associations with certain record companies, musicians, cultures, and musical styles.
Basquiat used music to convey ideas on the global exchange of cultural expressions and the harsh realities of being a Black artist in the face of prejudice. One of the key themes of the show is his involvement with the African diaspora and the politics of race in the United States, exploring how the artist’s works relate to modern culture by grounding his body of work in the present.
The exhibition will be accessible to visitors from October 15 through February 19 at the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts.
Tala is an Editorial Intern at Liminul. She’s a creative writer/director, graphic designer, and event coordinated based in Toronto. Tala is a third year student majoring in Fashion Communications at X University.