Jean-Michel Basquiat’s Effect with Cynthia Gadsden

September 21, 20223 min read
Jean-Michel Basquiat’s Effect with Cynthia Gadsden
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Yieldstreet’s fourth art equity fund includes a magnificent painting by Jean-Michel Basquiat, one of the most influential artists of all time.  On this episode of The Yield, Yieldstreet’s Art Platform leader Rebecca Fine sits down with Cynthia Gadsden, Assistant Professor of Art History at Tennessee State University for a conversation about Basquiat work and the recent King Pleasure exhibit.

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Key Takeaways:

[3:58] Early influencers who shaped the narrative about Basquiat.

[10:12] The poor reflection of Jean-Michel Basquiat in text, videos and interviews. 

[13:16] Highlights of the King Pleasure exhibit present a new side of Basquiat. 

[18:01] What is it about Basquiat’s work that resonates? 

[31:13] Yieldstreet’s art equity funds offerings.

Cynthia Gadsden wrote her masters thesis with a focus on Basquiat as well as art writing.  She used the lens of Basquiat’s career in the 1980s because, she describes, “he was really kind of fascinating for me as an artist.  His work is not necessarily warm and fuzzy and lovely all the time, but there’s something that’s quite intriguing there.” While he didn’t write about his own art, the narrative that surrounded him as the first international African-American art star, with a classic New York story that took him from spraying graffiti on downtown walls to exhibiting his explosive Neo Expressionist works in leading galleries is absolutely captivating. 

Early influencers shaped the narrative around Basquiat’s career and talent, in both truthful ways and in ways that are too ridiculous to believe.  Often the critics during his lifetime would look at his work only on the surface, rather than dig beneath that surface to look at all of those layers and nuances that he brought together in a very unusual and new and special way.  His work details a variety of text, iconography, and overt political references to historical events in an intentionally thematic way, and sadly much of his narrative, particularly in reference to police brutality and the subjugation of the black body, is as true in America today as it was in the 1980s. 

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Throughout Basquiat’s career, there was little attempt to understand this new artist and what he was trying to say with his work.  Instead, the disrespectful narrative was an attempt to make him fit into the box that was already established for what was considered good or quality art. This poor reflection of Jean-Michel Basquiat’s brilliance can be found in text, videos and interviews, where it is clear that he was approached with disrespect because he didn’t attend art school and was considered untrained in his art. 

As time has gone by, Basquiat’s work has continued to rise in cultural relevance and popularity.  The recent groundbreaking King Pleasure retrospective has over 200 works on view, most of which have never been exhibited until this point. Curated by the Basquiat Estate, the show offers an intimate glimpse into the artist’s life and work, contextualizing each piece within the zeitgeist of 1970s and 80s New York. Even more so, the exhibition offers an opportunity to see Basquiat as who he really was- a brother, an uncle, a world traveler, a friend. The exhibit not only elevates the discourse about his work, but his cultural relevance as well. 

What is it about Basquiat’s work that resonates with such a wide audience, even 40 years later?  How has he created such iconography? How did he incorporate the themes of sex and religion into his work? How can his culturally significant pieces be honored in a way that they haven’t been in the past? Whether you are an art lover or are just starting to learn about the significance of Basquiat and other artists, Yieldstreet is the avenue to expand your knowledge. 

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