“Modern art was once deemed serious because it derived from an avant-garde, and what the garde was in avant of was the market.”
– Searching for Jean- Michel, by Stephen Metcalfe, The Atlantic, July/August 2018
The above quote is from an article in The Atlantic about the artist Jean-Michel Basquiat (1961-1988). It’s a tender, heart felt search for the substance of genius and an answer to the artist’s premature death. Metcalfe turns up the usual suspects: poverty, abuse, mental illness, random circumstance that would drive the average person to despair, but against which talent and intelligence not only provide defence but turn desperation to advantage, only succumbing to the poison of excess.
A bunch of unconvincing cliches (who but a critic could say that Basquiat couldn’t draw or imagine that art derives its value from “deep study”?) riddle the piece but the history of Basquiat the person and artist developing in the midst of an art market catching fire is insightful and seems true to the times (that miserable decade, the 1980s).
By article’s end, you feel like you are standing before the paintings, stroking your chin and nodding beside Metcalfe: can’t explain it, the money is crazy, but that is truly something to behold.
Another most quotable quote, attributed to Picasso: “For paintings to be worth a lot of money, they must at some point have been sold cheaply.” But that is a topic for another day.