13. March 2018

New York/New Wave: The legendary exhibition at the P.S.1 opened up the New York art scene to the young Jean-Michel Basquiat in 1981. The SCHIRN has reconstructed the arrangement of his works, true to the original.

By Darja Zub

Jean-Michel Basquiat and the curator Diego Cortez met for the first time at the Mudd Club in Downtown Manhattan in 1979. Two years later, Cortez curated the group exhibition New York/New Wave at the city’s P.S.1. The opening night saw the writing of art history: The exhibition was a blockbuster success and opened up the New York art scene to the then 20-year-old Basquiat. In its exhibition Basquiat. Boom for Real, the SCHIRN has reconstructed the arrangement of the works from that time, true to the original.

Long Island City, Queens, 1981. On February 15 the P.S.1, Institute for Art and Urban Resources, Inc. – now the MoMA PS1 directed by Klaus Biesenbach – launched the group exhibition New York/New Wave, curated by Diego Cortez. The large rooms were full of people, the rush of visitors overwhelming, as people waited in line for two blocks to see Cortez’s portrait of the underground art and post-Punk scene of New York City. The exhibition drew more than 100 established and less established artists, musicians, writers and filmmakers from the No Wave scene, including Andy Warhol, Keith Haring and Nan Goldin, now well-known greats in the art world. It also included Jean-Michel Basquiat, who was then just 20 years old.

A fascinating portrait of New York City’s post-Punk period

The walls were hung from ceiling to floor with works. Different media and styles hung side by side, photography alongside graffiti, alongside drawings, alongside objects. Basquiat was the sole artist to be prominently presented with paintings. His works adorned the final exhibition room and captivated the New York public with their new visual language.

Exhibition View, New York/New Wave, PS1, 1981, Image via: moma.org

Exhibition View, © Schirn Kunsthalle Frankfurt, 2018, Foto: Norbert Miguletz, Kunstwerke: © VG Bild-Kunst Bonn, 2018 & The Estate of Jean-Michel Basquiat, Licensed by Artestar, New York

The New Wave, the experimental downtown culture of Manhattan, a symbiosis of music, film, performance and art, reflected the pulse of the time, charging Cortez’s exhibition with energy. The avant-garde movement was formed of a group of creative, rebellious and self-taught artists – qualities that Basquiat was also happy to use in describing himself. The interest in this frenetic and socially critical art of the mid-1970s and early 1980s spilled over from the streets into the galleries of New York.

Diego Cortez and Jean-Michels Basquiats first encounter: on the dance floor of the Mudd Club

It was a time of rebellion, of experimentation and of artistic freedom. New York may have been heading for bankruptcy, but the underground scene didn’t let this spoil the mood. On the contrary: From this dearth it drew a creative energy that captivated Diego Cortez, too. At that time the young curator was spending a lot of time among the circles of No Wave filmmakers and musicians, such as John Lurie, Scott and Beth B and Lydia Lunch. As a co-founder of the Mudd Club, which was originally intended as a Punk club but whose rooms later served as exhibition spaces and gallery areas for artists like Jean-Michel Basquiat and Keith Haring, Cortez met Basquiat on the dance floor in 1979. 

Steve Mass und Diego Cortez, Lower East Side, 1978 (c) Bobby Grossman, Image via: ny.curbed.com

Scott and Beth B, Diego Cortez, Lydia Lunch, Johnny O'Kane, Bill Rice and Adele Bertei, New York, 1980 (c) Marcia Resnick, Image via: daily.redbullmusicacademy.com

Fascinated by his SAMO© works and convinced by his talent, he encouraged the penniless young man, who was already popular within the scene, to paint and draw, to create works of art and sell them. This gave Basquiat money to then be able to afford the materials he needed. Cortez’s idea for his popular group exhibition goes back to another exhibition, "The Times Square Show" in June 1980, which earned gushing praise on the title page of the Village Voice as “the first radical art show of the eighties.” Inspired by the success of the Punk portrait show, in which Basquiat had taken part along with Keith Haring, among others, the curator decided to organize his own exhibition entitled New York/New Wave.

Always white walls with white people drinking white wine

In the documentary "The Radiant Child" made by Basquiat’s former girlfriend Tamra Davis in 2010, Cortez explains his interest in the show, saying he was tired of seeing white walls with white people drinking white wine. Inspired by the idea and reliant on the money, Basquiat prepared for New York/New Wave by producing more than 20 drawings and paintings in a very short space of time, using a wide variety of surfaces: metal, rubber, paper, canvas and wood. He made the entire exhibition space his own, using the full height and breadth of the exhibition walls and positioning his 23 works in a syncopal rhythm, with the aim of challenging visitors’ viewing habits and sharpening their sense for something new.

Photo of the “Times Square Show” by Terise Slotkin, June 1980 ©Terise Slotkin Photography, Image via: hyperallergic.com

In the same breath, Basquiat also created the promotional signs for the exhibition. These included the prominent Jimmy Best and the graffiti “NEW YORK NEWAVE” sprayed onto a metal plate, which hung in the corridor close to the exhibition entrance. He not only replaced the poster advertising, but ultimately even advanced to the point of being the defining statement and trademark of the event.

An explosive success with resonance

During the exhibition period, one after another gallery owners and collectors like Annina Nosei, Emilio Mazzoli and Bruno Bischofberger became aware of the young Jean-Michel Basquiat, as the news spread like wildfire. At the time Nosei, a gallery owner, was known for representing international contemporary artists like Francesco Clemente, David Salle and Sandro Chia. She signed a contract with Basquiat, donating not only paint and canvases, but also providing the artist with the cellar of her gallery at 100 Prince Street in SoHo so he could use it as a studio.

In 1982, in his first US solo exhibition at the Annina Nosei Gallery, Basquiat’s works sold out in one night. This was followed shortly afterwards by a successful solo exhibition at the Gagosian Gallery in Los Angeles, West Hollywood, as well as the ARTFORUM cover story The Radiant Child by writer and art critic Rene Ricard. It was from that point that Basquiat’s career really took off. A year later the painter went down in history as the youngest participating artist in Documenta 7, and during the course of his life he became a cult figure.

Jean-Michel Basquiat, Untitled, 1980 © VG Bild-Kunst Bonn, 2018 & Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York/ ADAGP, Paris & The Estate of Jean-Michel Basquiat, Licensed by Artestar, New York, Courtesy Whitney Museum of American Art

DIGITORIAL ON THE EXHIBITION

The free Digi­to­rial provides you with back­ground infor­ma­tion about the key aspects og the exhibition "Basquiat. Boom for Real". 

For desktop, tablet and mobile