Mixed reactions to Basquiat (1996)

09 May

This is a good movie, I have decided, even if David Bowie really remains David Bowie and not Andy Warhol, but I can’t help wondering about the worth of the scene it portrays. Were Andy Warhol and company really rather ludicrous? I really don’t know. I do know that much of the lifestyle represented in this movie ultimately leads straight down the toilet. But there is the paradox: this doomed young Haitian was pretty bloody brilliant. I am sure the art capitalists have done rather well out of him too. Is Robert Hughes right?

The only thing the market liked better than a hot young artist was a dead hot young artist, and it got one in Jean-Michel Basquiat, whose working life of about nine years was truncated by a heroin overdose at the age of twenty-seven. His career, both actual and posthumous, appealed to a cluster of toxic vulgarities. First, the racist idea of the black as naif or rhythmic innocent, and of the black artist as “instinctual,” someone outside “mainstream” culture and therefore not to be rated in its terms: a wild pet for the recently cultivated collector. Second, a fetish about the freshness of youth, blooming among the discos of the East Side scene. Third, guilt and political correctness, which made curators and collectors nervous about judging the work of any black artist who could be presented as a “victim.” Fourth, art-investment mania. And last, the audience’s goggling appetite for self-destructive talent: Pollock, Montgomery Clift. All this gunk rolled into a sticky ball around Basquiat’s tiny talent and produced a reputation.

Too dismissive of Basquiat, but perhaps not totally wrong about some of those around him and in the art collection scene.

The video above is from the movie, the one below is about the artist’s work.

See Jean-Michel Basquiat (1960-1988) from Emory University’s postcolonialism site, and Jean Michel Basquiat.

My mind went back to Sydney poet Michael Dransfield (12 September 1948–20 April 1973). Good he was too, but also “died at the Mater Misericordiae Hospital, Sydney, on Good Friday, 1973, aged only 24, leaving behind close to a thousand poems. Although it is often claimed that he died of a heroin overdose, his biographer Patricia Dobrez reports that the coronor’s finding on the cause of death was ‘acute broncho-pneumonia and brain damage’…” I’m afraid criticism like the following (louis armand is currently director of intercultural studies at the philosophy faculty of charles university) just leaves me cold:

…For Dransfield, as with Whiteley, addiction becomes the locus of the artist’s interior struggle–an idea whose genealogy follows diverse paths through Modernism and the “addictive personalities” of French Symbolist poetry, back to the beginnings of English Romanticism-marking another history of modernity, one that has been sublimated within the process of schematising literature according to a perceived social function.

According to Jacques Derrida (‘The Rhetoric of Drugs,’ 1989), this sublimation has to do with a certain tension between notions of public and private space, or between the poet’s solitary experience and his perceived duty to address the universal concerns of society. This question is very much at issue in any consideration of the Romantic ‘sublime,’ for instance, and its ‘loss of self’ towards utopianism or universality-which is not limited only to the poet’s experience of language but also to the ethico-political function of poetry itself. The poet, like the addict, becomes a medium for an economy that binds interiority to ‘the world’ through a type of indebtedness that poetry is henceforth required to supply…

Some appreciate this stuff, I know. I appreciate Dransfield’s talent; I have read just about all his published work. Some twenty or so of his poems really excited me back in the late 60s and early 70s when I was beginning to take an interest in poetry beyond the academic selections. But that critique does not turn me on at all. All the humanity has been sucked into some awful theoretical orifice.

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Posted by on May 9, 2007 in Aussie interest, Cultural and other, Films, DVDs, TV, Reading


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