it’s the little things

I’ll probably run in the morning; it’s the best way for me to handle my frustrations.

I don’t know what he means to white artists of a certain age, but to Black artists like me and my buddies, Jean-Michel Basquiat is our lost older brother (well, our older brother if we were the late-life accidents of the family). He came from where we come from: immigrants’ kids, bilingual/bi-cultural, some version of middle class, urbane (not necessarily urban), doubly-conscious and agile and ambitious. Several years ago, in a European gallery’s booth at Art Basel Miami Beach, Jason and I stood in front of an actual Basquiat for SALE! It could be HAD! WE could have it (with an extraordinary windfall on my part or dumb financial maneuvering on Jason’s). After conducting the shock of considering the possibility of acquiring a genuine treasure, we looked at the painting – spare, bright, incisive, and very much alive. The young, white, male gallery attendant looked over at us and smiled beatifically. I stepped closer to my friend to close out everything except the two of us and Basquiat’s painting.

On Friday evening I read an article about Basquiat and the current moment in fashion. The article itself is disposable (presumptive and inaccurate) in the way those things can be compelling (annoying) for one moment and forgotten (dismissed) the next. However. The photographs used to make the article’s ‘point’ are1 haphazardly credited. In particular, James VanDerZee’s portrait of Basquiat is uncredited. Appalling. The meaning of VanDerZee’s portrait(s) of Basquiat (and Basquiat’s portrait of VanDerZee) is enduring.

James VanDerZee, Portrait of Jean-Michel Basquiat, 1982
James VanDerZee, Portrait of Jean-Michel Basquiat, 1982

from New Again: Jean-Michel Basquiat in Interview Magazine:

GELDZAHLER: What do you think of James VanDerZee?

BASQUIAT: Oh, he was really great. He has a great sense of the “good” picture.

GELDZAHLER: What kind of a camera did he use?

BASQUIAT: Old box camera that had a little black lens cap on the front that he’d take off to make the exposure, then put it back on.

  1. ‘were’? Maybe they’ll correct the error? ↩︎