Basquiat for Toddlers

Dear Evangeline,

You are now 15 months old. With the few notable exceptions of a short visit to the Armory Show, the poop escapade at the Prado, and the full blown toddler tantrum at the Heckscher Museum of Art, mama has been largely denied one of her favorite pastimes, art gazing, for about as many months as you are old. So, I am now going to make a point of creating a new weekly-written section of letters, which will be pointed at the New York-area exhibition that I would most like to attend at that point in time. Seeing as we will most likely miss out on most of these shows, since the mere mention of the world “stroller” wins me a few kicks in the gut and the words “don’t touch” seem to mean “yes, definitely touch that” in your toddler vocabulary, I will write about them instead. Don’t fret, child. Art is abound on the internet and, after all, we are in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction, aren’t we?

Untitled (Estrella), 1985

Untitled (Estrella), 1985

The show I am longing to attend this week is at Manhattan’s Acquavella Galleries, located at 18 East 79th Street. It is titled, “Jean-Michel Basquiat Drawing: Work from the Schorr Family Collection,” and is curated by Fred Hoffman. The works will be on show from May 1 through June 13. Though Basquiat is known for his large-scale Neo-Expressionist paintings, the Acquavella exhibition highlights his little-known works on paper. This intrigues me. As an artist, Basquiat is a drawer, not painter at heart. His trademark scratchy brushstrokes would of course lend well to paper, but perhaps most revealing is the seemingly subconscious nature of his subject matter, an approach that is perhaps best captured by the portable and sketchy nature of the pencil medium.

Basquiat is, for me, the most relevant artist of the 20th century. He was “discovered” by the most iconic artist of his era, Andy Warhol, while working the streets as the graffiti artist, “SAMO.”  His work is both genius and prolific, both surprising facts seeing as Basquiat was taken under Warhol’s wing at the unripe age of 20 and worked until his untimely death at just 27 years of age. But it isn’t just Basquiat’s unmatched creative process that makes him such a seminal figure. It is the way in which he gave his life to art and the manner in which the art world took his life from him. Basquiat represents everything beautiful about art, and everything despicable about the society in which he lived. His precocious, almost clairvoyant, works reveal the inherent hypocrisy of this world, while his life and oeuvre tell a story that is so tragically interwoven that one cannot possibly be properly contextualized without the other.

I’d love to take you to see this Basquiat show, Eva, because even as a 1 year-old, you would be enraptured by his work. It gets to the core of the human condition. It speaks to the young through its rawness, but to the old through an eery wisdom. I’d love to take you, Eva, because Basquiat’s art was made for you. Your fingerprints would only add to its sheen, but it’s the gallerist who would demand that you not touch.


Artfully Yours,


Mama Pearce

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