A Quick Killing in Art

By Phoebe Hoban

“If you had only twenty-four hours left to live, what would you do?”
“I don’t know. I’d go hang out with my mother and my girlfriend, I guess.”

 
 

 
 

Friday, August 12, 1988. On the sidewalk outside 57 Great Jones Street, the usual sad lineup of crack addicts slept in the burning sun. Inside the two-story brick building, Jean-Michel Basquiat was asleep in his huge bed, bathed in blue television light. The air conditioner was broken and the room felt like a microwave oven. The bathroom door was ajar, revealing a glimpse of a black and tan Jacuzzi tub. On the ledge of the tub was a small pile of bloody syringes. There was a jagged hole punched in the bathroom window. Beneath it was scrawled the legend “Broken Heart,” with Basquiat’s favorite punctuation, a copyright sign.

Kelle Inman, Basquiat’s twenty-two-year-old girlfriend, was downstairs writing in the journal that Basquiat had given her. He usually slept all day, but when he still hadn’t come down for breakfast by midafternoon, Inman got worried. When she looked into the bedroom to check up on him, the heat hit her full in the face, like a wave. But Basquiat seemed to be sleeping peacefully, so she went back downstairs. She and the housekeeper heard what sounded like loud snores, but thought nothing of it.

A few hours later, Basquiat’s friend Kevin Bray called. He and Basquiat and another friend, Victor Littlejohn, were supposed to go to a Run-D.M.C. concert that evening, and he wanted to make plans with Jean-Michel. Kelle climbed back up the stair’s to give Basquiat the message. This time, she found him stretched on the floor, his head Jean-Michael on his arm like a child’s, a small pool of vomit forming near his chin.

Inman panicked. She had never seen anyone die, although Basquiat’s drug binges had made the scenario a constant fear. Now it seemed like the worst had happened. She ran to the phone and called Bray, Littlejohn, and Vrej Baghoomian, Basquiat’s last art dealer.

“When I got there,” recalls Bray, “Kelle said she had called an ambulance. She took me upstairs. Jean-Michel looked like he was comfortably out cold. He was on the floor, lying against the wall, as if he had fallen down and didn’t have the strength to get up, and was just taking a nap. There was a lot of clear liquid coming out of his mouth. We picked him up and turned him over. We shook him, and we just kept trying to revive him. It took a long time for the ambulance to arrive. But for a while, after the guys from the Emergency Medical Service came, we thought he was going to be okay. They were giving him shocks and IV treatment. Victor had to hold Jean-Michel up like this so the IV’s would drain,” says Bray, stretching his arms out in a cruciform.

Bray couldn’t take it anymore. He went downstairs, where Inman, and two assistants from the Baghoomian gallery, Vera Calloway and Helen Traversi, were trying to stay calm. “We tried to take his pulse. His skin was so hot,” says Calloway. Baghoomian called the studio just as the paramedics arrived. He was in San Francisco and Helen was forced to act in his stead.

“It was almost like it was some sort of business transaction,” says Bray. “They put a tube in his throat and they brought him downstairs. They wouldn’t tell us whether he was dead or alive and they took him outside. He had this beautiful bubbling red-white foam coming out of his mouth.”

“We all hoped some miracle would happen,” recalls Helen, who begins to cry at the memory. Outside on the pavement, a small crowd had gathered in horror and fascination. “I was about to leave on vacation with my wife,” says filmmaker Amos Poe, who was a friend of the artist. “We watched as they loaded his body into the ambulance. I saw his father pull up in a Saab. I kept saying to my wife. `Jean-Michel is dead.’ He really lived out that whole destructo legend: Die young, leave a beautiful corpse.”

Basquiat was buried at Green-Wood Cemetery in Brooklyn five days later. His father invited only a few of the artist’s friends to the closed-casket funeral at Frank Campbell’s; they were outnumbered by the phalanx of art dealers. The heat wave had broken, and it rained on the group gathered at the cemetery to bid Jean-Michel goodbye. The eulogy was delivered by Citibank art consultant Jeffrey Deitch, lending the moment an unintentionally ironic tone.

Blanca Martínez, Basquiat’s housekeeper, was struck by the alienated attitude of the mourners. “They were all standing separately, as if it were an obligation,” she says. “They didn’t seem to care. Some looked ashamed.” People began to leave the cemetery before the body was buried. Ignoring the objections of the gravediggers, Martinez tearfully threw a handful of dirt onto the coffin as they lowered it into the grave.

Basquiat’s mother, Matilde, looking dazed, approached Baghoomian to thank him for his help to her son during his last days. Gerard Basquiat later admonished his former wife not to talk to the art dealer. The scene was already being set for a bitter battle over the estate of the artist.

The following week, appraisers from Christie’s set to work taking inventory of the contents of the Great Jones Street loft: finished and unfinished paintings, other artists’ works (including several dozen Warhols and a piece by William Burroughs), a vintage collection of Mission furniture, a closet full of Armani and Comme des Garcons suits, a library of over a thousand videotapes, hundreds of audiocassettes, art books, a carton of the Charlie Parker biography Bird Lives!, several bicycles, a number of antique toys, an Everlast punching bag, six music synthesizers, some African instruments, an Erector set, and a pair of handcuffs.

There were also a number of paintings in warehouses: following Andy Warhol‘s advice, Basquiat had tried to squirrel some of his work away from his ever-eager art dealers. According to Christie’s, Basquiat had left 917 drawings, 25 sketchbooks, 85 prints, and 171 paintings.

Artist Dan Asher walked by his old friend’s loft and was astonished to see a number of Basquiat’s favorite things in a Dumpster: his shoes, his jazz collection, a peculiar lamp made out of driftwood, Sam Peckinpah‘s director’s chair. Asher salvaged a few items; he sold the chair to a collector.

It would be another year before Gerard Basquiat ordered a tombstone for his son. But for several weeks after the artist’s death, he was commemorated by a small shrine some anonymous fan had placed by his door. Shrouded in lace, it held flowers, votive candles, a picture of Basquiat, some carefully copied prayers, and a Xerox of a David Levine caricature of the artist, complete with a caption: “In an age of limitless options and limiting fears, he still makes poems and paintings to evoke his world.”

A formal memorial service was finally held at Saint Peter’s Church in Citicorp Center, on a stormy Saturday in November. Despite the rain, wind, and bleak gray sky, several hundred people crowded into the church. Behind the pulpit hung a portrait of the artist as a young man, superimposed on one of his faux-primitive paintings. One by one, his former friends and lovers remembered Basquiat.

Gray, the band with which Jean-Michel had played at the Mudd Club, performed several songs. John Lurie played a saxophone solo. Ingrid Sischy, editor of Interview magazine, read a eulogy. Ex-girlfriends Jennifer Goode and Suzanne Mallouk tearfully read poems. And Keith Haring, AIDS-thin, reminisced about his friend. “He disrupted the politics of the art world and insisted that if he had to play their games, he would make the rules. His images entered the dreams and museums of the exploiters, and the world can never be the same.”

Fab 5 Freddy, who knew Basquiat from his old graffiti days, “interpolated” a poem by Langston Hughes. “This is a song for the genius child. Sing it softly, for the song is wild. Sing it softly as ever you can–lest the song get out of hand. Nobody loves a genius child. Can you love an eagle, tame or wild? Wild or tame, can you love a monster, of frightening name? Nobody loves a genius child. Free [sic] him and let his soul run wild.”

After the service, everyone went to M.K., the bank-turned-nightclub on lower Fifth Avenue. Owned by Jennifer Goode’s brother, it was one of Jean-Michel’s favorite places. In fact, it was his last destination the night before he died. He had come to the club looking for Jennifer. Now people stood around the big television set, sipping champagne and watching a flickering black-and-white video of Basquiat. A photographer from Fame magazine snapped pictures of the known and not-so-known: the jewelry designer Tina Chow, and her sister, Adele Lutz, David Byrne‘s wife. Filmmaker Jim Jarmusch. It was the perfect send-off for the eighties art star; part opening, part wake.

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It’s Not Where You Take Things From…

«Nothing is original. Steal from anywhere that resonates with inspiration or fuels your imagination. Devour old films, new films, music, books, paintings, photographs, poems, dreams, random conversations, architecture, bridges, street signs, trees, clouds, bodies of water, light and shadows. Select only things to steal from that speak directly to your soul. If you do this, your work (and theft) will be authentic. Authenticity is invaluable; originality is nonexistent. And don’t bother concealing your thievery – celebrate it if you feel like it. In any case, always remember what Jean-Luc Godard said: “It’s not where you take things from – it’s where you take them to.”»

Jim Jarmusch
The Golden Rules of Filming

 
 

 
 

His films have often included foreign actors and characters, and (at times substantial) non-English dialogue. In his two later-nineties films, he dwelt on different cultures’ experiences of violence, and on textual appropriations between cultures: a wandering Native American’s love of William Blake, a black hit-man’s passionate devotion to the Hagakure (Hidden by the Leaves or Hidden Leaves), a practical and spiritual guide for a warrior. The interaction and syntheses between different cultures, the arbitrariness of national identity, and irreverence towards ethnocentric, patriotic or nationalistic sentiment are recurring themes in Jarmusch’s work

Jarmusch’s fascination for music is another characteristic that is readily apparent in his work. Musicians appear frequently in key roles – John Lurie, Tom Waits, Gary Farmer, Youki Kudoh, RZA and Iggy Pop have featured in multiple Jarmusch films, while Joe Strummer and Screamin’ Jay Hawkins appear in Mystery Train and GZA, Jack and Meg White feature in Coffee and Cigarettes. Hawkins’ song I Put a Spell on You was central to the plot of Stranger than Paradise, while Mystery Train is inspired by and named after a song popularized by Elvis Presley, who is also the subject of a vignette in Coffee and Cigarettes. In the words of critic Vincent Canby, “Jarmusch’s movies have the tempo and rhythm of blues and jazz, even in their use – or omission – of language. His films work on the senses much the way that some music does, unheard until it’s too late to get it out of one’s head.”

In the early 1980s, Jarmusch was part of a revolving lineup of musicians in Robin Crutchfield‘s Dark Day project, and later became the keyboardist and one of two vocalists for The Del-Byzanteens, a No Wave band whose sole LP Lies to Live By was a minor underground hit in the United States and Britain in 1982.

When Those Walls Come Down

“But love is much like a dam: if you allow a tiny crack to form through which only a trickle of water can pass, that trickle will quickly bring down the whole structure, and soon no one will be able to control the force of the current. For when those walls come down, then love takes over, and it no longer matters what is possible or impossible; it doesn’t even matter whether we can keep the loved one at our side. To love is to lose control.”

Paulo Coelho
By the River Piedra I Sat Down and Wept

 
 

The Other Side of the Great Wall of Fuck, John Lurie, 2014

Portraits of Wild Young Artists and Their Seniors

Jeannette Montgomery Barron was born in 1956 in Atlanta Georgia and studied at the International Center of Photography in New York. She became known for her portraits of the New York art world in the 1980s.

Her works are in numerous public and corporate collections, including The Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, The High Museum of Art, Atlanta, Kunsthaus, Zurich and The Andy Warhol Museum, Pittsburgh. She has shown internationally at Galerie Bruno Bischofberger, Zurich, Scalo, New York and Zurich, Jackson Fine Art, Atlanta, ClampArt, New York and Magazzino D’Arte Moderna, Rome.

 
 

John Lurie

 
 

Stuart Pivar

 
 

Salomé, one of the members of the art group Junge Wilde (Wild Youth)

 
 

Rainer Fetting and Desmond

 
 

Willem Dafoe

 
 

Cindy Sherman

 
 

Robert Mapplethorpe

 
 

Bianca Jagger

 
 

Ryuichi Sakamoto

 
 

John Waters

 
 

William S. Burroughs

 
 

Vincent Gallo

 
 

Keith Haring

 
 

Francesco Clemente

 
 

Julian Schnabel

 
 

Matt Dillon and Dennis Hopper

 
 

Jean-Michel Basquiat and Andy Warhol

 
 

Jean-Michel Basquiat

Some Are Born to Sweet Delight

“Some are born to sweet delight, some are born to endless night.”
William Blake

 
 

Jean-Michel Basquiat and John Lurie. Photo by Andy Warhol

 
 

In an interview Lurie revealed how he met Basquiat:

“I met him at the Mudd Club. He loved to dance but was a horrible dancer. His face looked so delighted by his own dancing. And it reminded me of something my father had told me about seeing Willie Mays play baseball. Mays was 19 at the time and coming up to the majors through the minor league, and my father said he’d play with this absolute delight on his face. So I started calling Jean-Michel, Willie Mays.”

Trash Without Sex

 
 

Stranger Than Paradise is a 1984 American absurdist/deadpan comedy film. It was written and directed by Jim Jarmusch and stars jazz musician John Lurie, former Sonic Youth drummer-turned-actor Richard Edson, and Hungarian-born actress Eszter Balint. The film features a minimalist plot in which the main character, self-identified “hipster” Willie (John Lurie), has a cousin from Hungary, Eva (Eszter Balint), stay with him for ten days before going to Cleveland. Willie and his friend Eddie (Richard Edson) eventually go to Cleveland to visit Eva.

Writer and director Jim Jarmusch had initially shot his first feature, Permanent Vacation (1980) as his final thesis while at New York University’s film school, and spent the following four years making Stranger than Paradise. At NYU, he had studied under iconic director Nicholas Ray, who had brought him along as his personal assistant for the production of Lightning over Water, a portrait of Ray that was being filmed by Wim Wenders. It was Wenders who granted Jarmusch the leftover film stock from his subsequent film The State of Things (1982) that would enable the young director to shoot the 30-minute short subject film that would become Stranger Than Paradise. This short was released as a standalone film in 1982, and shown as “Stranger Than Paradise” at the 1983 International Film Festival Rotterdam. When it was later expanded into a three-act feature, that name was appropriated for the feature itself, and the initial segment was renamed “The New World”.

Stranger Than Paradise broke many conventions of traditional Hollywood filmmaking, and became a landmark work in modern independent film. According to Allmovie, it is “one of the most influential movies of the 1980s”, and cast “a wide shadow over the new generation of independent American filmmakers to come. It is cited for giving “an early example of the low-budget independent wave that would dominate the cinematic marketplace a decade later.” The success of the film accorded Jarmusch a certain iconic status within arthouse cinema, as an idiosyncratic and uncompromising auteur exuding the aura of urban cool embodied by downtown Manhattan. In 2002, Stranger Than Paradise was selected for preservation in the United States National Film Registry by the Library of Congress as being “culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant”.

Film critic Pauline Kael gave the film a generally positive review.

The first section is set in the bare Lower East Side apartment of Willie, who is forced to take in Eva, his 16-year-old cousin from Budapest, for ten days. The joke here is the basic joke of the whole movie. It’s in what Willie doesn’t do: he doesn’t offer her food or drink, or ask her any questions about life in Hungary or her trip; he doesn’t offer to show her the city, or even supply her with sheets for her bed. Then Eddie comes in, even further down on the lumpen scale. Willie bets on the horses; Eddie bets on dog races. Eva, who never gets to see more of New York than the drab, anonymous looking area where Willie lives, goes off to Cleveland to stay with Aunt Lotte and work at a hot-dog stand. And when Willie and Eddie go to see her, all they see is an icy wasteland – slums and desolation – and Eddie says ‘You know it’s funny. You come to someplace new, and everything looks just the same.’ The film has something of the same bombed-out listlessness as Paul Morrissey‘s 1970 Trash – it’s Trash without sex or transvestism. The images are so emptied out that Jarmusch makes you notice every tiny, grungy detail. And those black-outs have something of the effect of Samuel Beckett‘s pauses: they make us look more intently, as Beckett makes us listen more intently.