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Basquiat’s ‘Defacement’ / Guggenheim Museum, NYC – THIS WEEK IN ARTS VOL.2

The museum and the exhibition: comfort minus the déjà vu.

For our first trip to New York City, we automatically planned a visit to one of the many jewels the city has to offer: the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum. Permanent home for contemporary art, ephimeral exhibitions are also notorious there, and the building’s architecture doesn’t disappoint. At our time of visit and alongside Basquiat’s Defacement: The Untold Story, we also enjoyed portraits taken by Robert Mappletorpe and sculptures by Constantin Brancusi.

To be completely honest, we weren’t familiar with Jean-Michel Basquiat’s work, which we only heard of while watching documentaries and reading Keith Haring’s Journals. Once reconciled with our humility, we fully immersed in this proposed portion of his art. That is the magic of primitive art: simple never precludes impact and meaning.

We would have loved to review our full experience, but we’re limiting this article to the main reason of our visit. Of course, 3 raisons pour will be your best ally when the time comes for a comprehensive walkthrough of the premises. EDIT: it has just been published here!

For now, let’s take a blogable tour!

Inside the Guggenheim Museum in New York
Inside the Guggenheim Museum in New York

Basquiat's 'Defacement': introduction and purpose

The exhibition revolves around the death of Michael Stewart (1958 – 1983), a black artist who was arrested and beaten after writing graffiti on a wall at the First Avenue station in New York. This event placed the questions of police brutality, black heritage and social awareness at the heart of Basquiat’s art.

Quality over quantity: exploring cultural activism through the lens of Jean-Michel Basquiat, Basquiat’s Defacement reunites around 20 works. These works are a perfect introduction for the newbie and a genuine moment of active contemplation and conscious awakening for the expert. 

Beyond the exhibition (supported by the National Endowment for the Arts and The Keith Haring Foundation), the museum organized different screenings throughout the Summer, featuring various documentaries and Spike Lee’s Do The Right Thing, among others. 

What's being showed: our selection (click to enlarge for best experience)

Canvases and panels

Basquiat Defacement Guggenheim New York - The Death of Michael Stewart
Jean-Michel Basquiat The Death of Michael Stewart, 1983 Acrylic and marker on plasterboard 25 x 30 1/2 inches (63.5 x 77.5 cm) Collection of Nina Clemente, New York
Basquiat Defacement Guggenheim New York - Untitled Sheriff
Jean-Michel Basquiat Untitled (Sheriff), 1981 Acrylic and oilstick on canvas 51 1/2 x 74 inches (130.8 x 188 cm) Carl Hirschmann Collection
Basquiat Defacement Guggenheim New York - Charles the First
Jean-Michel Basquiat Charles the First, 1982 Acrylic and oil stick on canvas, three panels 78 x 65 inches (198.1 x 165.1 cm) Estate of Jean-Michel Basquiat
Basquiat Defacement Guggenheim New York - Charlie Parker
Jean-Michel Basquiat CPRKR, 1982 Acrylic, oil stick, and paper collage on canvas, mounted on tied-wood support 60 x 40 inches (152.4 x 101.6 cm) Private Collection
Basquiat Defacement Guggenheim New York -
Jean-Michel Basquiat Irony of a Negro Policeman, 1981 Acrylic and oilstick on wood panel 72 x 48 inches (182.9 x 121.9 cm) AMA Collection
Basquiat Defacement Guggenheim New York - Self Portait
Jean-Michel Basquiat Self Portrait, 1983 Oil, acrylic, oilstick, graphite and pen on paper collage on wood with metal attachments, in 2 parts 79 5/8 x 29 3/4 x 5 1/2 inches (202.2 x 75.6 x 14 cm) (Left panel) 96 3/4 x 34 x 2 inches (245.7 x 86.4 x 5.1 cm) (Right panel) The Matthew Dike Trust

Mural paintings

Keith Haring -Basquiat Defacement Guggenheim New York - USA for Africa
Keith Haring Michael Stewart - USA for Africa, 1985 Enamel and acrylic on canvas 116 x 12 feet (294.6 x 365.8 cm) Collection of Monique and Ziad Ghandour

Collectibles and memorabilia

Basquiat Defacement Guggenheim New York - Michael Stewart Poster
David Wojnarowicz Flyer for protest at Union Square, New York, September 26, 1983 Photocopy 11 inches x 8 1/2 inches (27.9 x 21.6 cm) Collection of Luc Sante
Basquiat Defacement Guggenheim New York - Mass rally poster
Flyer for protest at Manhattan Criminal Court, July 26, 1984 11 x 8 1/2 inches (27.9 x 21.6 cm) Collection of the Stewart Family
Basquiat Defacement Guggenheim New York - Dancetaria poster
Card for benefit at Danceteria, October 3, 1983 7 5/8 x 5 1/2 inches (19.4 x 14 cm) Collection of Franck Goldberg

Information about the exhibition


  • Until November 6, 2019.
  • The museum operates seven days a week (10 am – 5:30 pm) and closes late on Tuesdays and Saturdays (doors close at 8 pm). A pay-what-you-wish policy (min. 10$) is in place on Saturdays from 5 pm, but it usually is insanely crowded.

How much time should I take to enjoy the exhibition?

  • Around 30 minutes for a comfortable exploration of the exhibition alone, 2 hours for the 6 levels of the museum.

Should I go?

  • YES. It should almost be a human right (or worst case scenario, a legal obligation).

More info about the museum here and about the exhibition here.

Written by Marc Louis-Boyard for Slow Culture

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