Art // Basquiat Boom for Real at The Barbican, London

Basquiat Boom for Real is the first large-scale exhibition in the UK of the work of American artist Jean-Michel Basquiat (1960­-1988). One of the most significant painters of the 20th century, Basquiat entered the spotlight in the 1970s in the post-punk underground art scene in downtown New York.

His vibrant, raw imagery, filled with fragments of bold capitalised text, offers  an insights into both his encyclopaedic interests and his experience as a young black artist with no formal training. 

Since his tragic death in 1988, Basquiat has had little exposure in the UK, not a single work of his is held in a public collection. Drawing from international museums and private collections, Basquiat Boom for Real brings together an outstanding selection of more than 100 works, many never seen before in the UK. The show opened at the Barbican on 21 September 2017. 

Jean-Michel Basquiat’s sisters, Lisane and Jeanine Basquiat said “We are delighted to be working with the Barbican on this important exhibition, which is so long overdue” 

More than any other exhibition to date, Basquiat Boom for Real focuses on the artist’s relationship to music, writing, performance, film and television, placing him within the wider cultural context of the time. Paintings, drawings, notebooks and objects are presented alongside rare film, photography, music and archival material, capturing the range and dynamism of Basquiat’s practice over the years. 

Jane Alison, Head of Visual Arts, Barbican , said “We are truly thrilled to be staging the first show on Basquiat in the UK in over 20 years. The creative brilliance and emotive power of Basquiat continues to have a huge impact and influence. This is a rare opportunity for visitors to see a body of some of his most famous and also little known works in one place, and to see those works in the context of the New York scene of the 1980s.”

Basquiat first came to the media’s attention in 1978, when he teamed up with his classmate Al Diaz to graffiti enigmatic statements across the city under the collective pseudonym SAMO© (a contraction of ‘same old, same old shit’).

Soon he was making drawings in his own blood, collaging baseball cards and postcards and painting on clothing, architectural fragments and improvised canvases. He also collaborated with other artists, most famously with Andy Warhol.


Highlights of the Barbican’s exhibition include a partial reconstruction of Basquiat’s first body of exhibited work, made for Diego Cortez’s watershed group show New York / New Wave at P.S.1 in February 1981. Fifteen works are brought together for the first time in over 35 years, allowing visitors to understand how Basquiat so quickly won the admiration of fellow artists and critics. 

The exhibition continues with an exploration of his energetic, often collaborative work as the prodigy of the downtown scene, from the birth of SAMO© to his relationship with Warhol.


A famously self-taught artist, Basquiat sampled from an extraordinary breadth of source material, from anatomical drawings to bebop jazz to silent film, but many of these reference points have remained relatively opaque until now.

With the support of the Basquiat family, the curators have conducted extensive new research, which will allow these important works to be understood as never before. 

The show runs from 21 September 2017— 28 January 2018

Barbican Centre, Silk St, London EC2Y 8DS, UK

Images c/o The Barbican

Nicky’s World December 2018