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Basquiat at the Barbican – 21st September 2017 to 28th January 2018

Basquiat: Boom for Real is the first large-scale exhibition in the UK of the work of American artist Jean-Michel Basquiat (1960­-1988). Basquiat came to the attention of the Art world in the late 1970s in the post-punk underground art scene in downtown New York. By 1982, he had gained international recognition and was the youngest ever artist to participate in Documenta 7 in Kassel. His vibrant, raw imagery, abounding with fragments of bold capitalised text, offers 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 remarkably 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, and opens at Barbican Art Gallery on 21 September 2017.

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.

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. In the downstairs spaces, new scholarship sheds light on some of his most acclaimed paintings and drawings. A famously self-taught artist, Basquiat sampled from an extraordinary breadth of source material – from anatomical drawings to bebop jazz to silent film .

For more information , visit the Barbican website here

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Book Review – Chris Stein / Negative : Me, Blondie, and the Advent of Punk ( Rizzoli International Publications)

chris stein

On the occasion of Blondie’s fortieth anniversary, band member Chris Stein publishes a book that features many unpublished photographs of Debbie Harry and celebrates the  70’s and  80’s New York rock scene.

In the introduction, Stein relates that he was actually a photographer before he was a musician and had his own ideas of the media, ” I  got the idea of photography as time travel, of moments frozen and stilled, of windows into the past.”

Stein attended the School of Visual Arts in New York and in the early 1970s became involved in the New York music and art scene, it was within this scene that he met Debbie Harry who became his friend and ‘muse’ and started a music collaboration that led to the creation of ‘Blondie’. Debbie jokingly calls Stein a voyeur but credits him with her eventual ease in front of the camera, ” All the experiences I had with Chris as his subject in those early days gave me confidence  that made it possible for me to do photo sessions with some of the world’s most famous photographers.”

Glenn O’Brien puts Chris’ work in context by suggesting that the New York of the 1970s and 1980s  was  run down and violent but had a small but very creative scene that allowed  musicians, artists, filmmakers and other to perfect their crafts.

The first chapter New York  explores this theme and scene  in some detail, a photograph from around  Great Jones Street in New York shows how the run down parts of the city resembled bombed out European cities. However it was cheap to live in these parts of the city and artists and musician gravitated to these areas. Out of this crucible began a series of bands who turned their back on the grand progressive rock scene and gravitated  to a more powerful rawer sound.  Suicide, New York Dolls, Magic Tramps, the Heartbreakers and the Ramones began to create large followings and Chris Stein documents the era with a series of photographs that also include some of the local ‘characters’ Lester Bangs, Divine and Jane County.

But the main focus of Chris Stein’s photographs was Debbie Harry who throughout the 1970s was developing her persona. The series of photographs of naked Debbie in Patty Hearst mode from 1974 can be contrasted with a much more professional image in the late 70s.

The next chapter Above 14th Street charts that the rise of Blondie took Chris and Debbie out of New York and on the path to fame. Blondie’s Idiots tour in 1977 saw them mixing with the likes of David Bowie and Iggy Pop,  other up and coming stars Joan Jett, Devo,  and B-52’s in their early days are also featured.

The chapter entitled Los Angeles show that as Blondie became more successful, quite often  the squalor of New York  was left behind and the pictures of Debbie and  Chris around  the pool at the Tropicana Motel in Santa Monica  shows  that the West Coast scene was undergoing it own music revolution. Photographs of local bands the Avengers and The Screamers illustrate this movement but there are also an interesting photograph of rising female stars Debbie Harry, Suzi Quatro and Joan Jett.

If  Blondie worked hard to conquer the US at this time , the chapter Beyond US illustrates that they were on the verge of becoming a global phenomenon . Trips to Germany, Thailand,  and France are recorded , but it is visit to the UK that put Blondie in touch with the British Punk scene.  Photographs of Debbie with female British Punk stars Chrissie Hynde, Pauline Black, Poly Styrene , Viv Albertine, and Siouxsie Sioux  in a photo shoot for a magazine is an indication that women were at the forefront of the new movement. Debbie also features in pictures with the Buzzcocks and Sting .

The rawness of the  1970s  was transformed in the 1980s to a decade of ‘Excess’  and the chapter Everywhere 80s offers  some insight into some of the major changes in the music business . The advent of the video age  was a godsend to the bands with photogenic, charismatic  front men and women.  Debbie Harry became  a global icon often in high demand for photoshoots , film roles and musicals such as John Water’s Polyester.

The final chapter Blondie and Beyond starts with the rather strange photograph of a topless Debbie Harry doing a bungee jump in New Zealand in  1990. It also features a couple of pictures of Chris’ friend , the writer William S Burroughs, one with a gun illustrating his love of firearms.  The chapter ends with a series of photographs of Andy Warhol directing Debbie in a photoshoot.

Chris Stein has produced a book  that  offers an insider’s view of  the downtown New York scene of the early ’70s  and the new-wave and punk scene. It is an important social document of  many of the places and people who created  an artistic and cultural revolution .  New York Downtown characters like Jean-Michel Basquiat, Richard Hell, Stephen Sprouse, Anya Phillips, Divine, and many others  make an appearance as do future icons David Bowie, Andy Warhol, William S Burroughs, the Ramones  and Iggy Pop.

But ultimately it is Chris’ photographs of Debbie Harry  that are often the most revealing  charting the rise of a female global icon in fashion and music. Ranging from  Debbie’s  rather innocent early pictures in the 1970s up to the consummate professional of the 1980s and beyond, they offer many sides of her character that will amuse and surprise the reader.

One should not underestimate that  Chris’ easy going and relaxed style of taking photographs produced a series of photographs of people in a relaxed informal manner that perhaps reveals more about their character than any more formal portrait.  The book is also a testament to Chris Stein’s skill has a photographer, frequently overlooked due to his musical career but now acknowledged by many.

This well written book, creatively designed and beautifully  illustrated by stunning photographs will appeal to those interested in the New York scene of the 1970s and 1980s and the new-wave and punk scene, Blondie’s position in these movements is well known, however  their blend of punk, dance, and hip-hop and relentless experimentation helped them to not to be defined by these movements. It is Chris Stein’s and Debbie Harry constant striving for something different that defined Blondie as a band but also them as individuals . This book is a testament to their skill to stay relevant over the last 40 years and their ability to maintain an influence on music and fashion over that time.

Visiting London Guide Rating – Highly Recommended

For further information about the book or to buy a copy, visit here

There will be a exhibition of Chris Stein’s Photographs at Somerset House in London 05 November 2014 – 25 January 2015

London Visitors is the official blog for the Visiting London Guide .com website. The website was developed to bring practical advice and latest up to date news and reviews of events in London.
Since our launch in January, we attract thousands of readers each month, the site is constantly updated.
We have sections on Museums and Art Galleries, Transport, Food and Drink, Places to Stay, Security, Music, Sport, Books and many more.
There are also hundreds of links to interesting articles on our blog.

To find out more visit the website here