Boardroom visited one of New York City’s destination exhibitions to capture not only the essence of never-before-seen Jean-Michel Basquiat art but the intentions his family held while building it in his honor.
The world of Jean-Michel Basquiat opened up on April 9 in the form of “King Pleasure” — a 12,000-square-foot exhibition in the Starrett-Leigh Building, located in the Chelsea neighborhood of Manhattan, New York City. The exhibit is led by the family of Basquiat, including his two sisters, Lisane Basquiat and Jeanine Heriveaux, along with their children and Jean-Michel’s stepmother, Nora Fitzpatrick.
The exhibition has over 200 paintings, drawings, ephemera, and artifacts that help tell the story of the late artist. As spectators walk through the gallery, the experience is aided by multimedia presentations that feature the Basquiat family and close friends giving their perspectives on his life as well as sharing their experiences with him. High-profile visitors thus far have included Jimmy Iovine, Chris Rock, and Kyrie Irving.
“This is a celebration of Jean-Michel’s life. It’s a big ol’ party for Jean-Michel,” Lisane Basquiat told Boardroom during a Zoom interview. “Part of our vision was that we wanted to light New York City up with our brother. We want to certainly help ease the pandemic thing that we’re going through and to celebrate this child of Brooklyn and New York.”
As Jeanine Heriveaux tells it, the process of putting the show together was not easy. Her brother died 33 years ago, on Aug. 12, 1988, but the emotions around the time of his death are still very much alive. “We have been a pretty silent and private family in regards to exhibitions because, quite frankly, really diving into this has been emotional and painful,” she explained. “But when you don’t participate, then your story can be shifted or told from other people’s perspective, and we thought it was important for our children’s legacy and for Jean-Michel’s legacy to add more context and to add to that story.”
The initial idea for the show began in 2017 after both Jeanine and Lisane saw the Rolling Stones’ exhibit in 2016. The person who helped curate the event was Ileen Gallagher. From there, the Basquiat family reached out to Gallagher and initially met five years ago. After realizing the amount of work it takes to put on a show, they decided to take a step back. The two sides reconvened in 2020.
“She’s been amazing. We’ve created this team and worked together for a lot of hours,” said Lisane Basquiat of Gallagher. “A lot of our trust came in her willingness to understand our vision from both what we wanted to deliver at the end of it but also understanding that while we’re no curators, it was really important to us to do it the way that we wanted to do it. She was not only willing to be okay with that but she really hopped into the boat and rowed with us.”
Outside of “King Pleasure,” Gallagher has also produced the “100 Years of Peter Pan” exhibition, “Rolling Stones: 50 Years,” and a pop-up museum with historic photographs of The Beatles.
“I become very passionate about every subject that I take on in my career,” Gallagher told Boardroom at the exhibit. “I think we all felt that we exceeded even our own expectations as for what this could be. And it was just so rewarding to see it all come together because we had such a talented team of designers and people that we worked with that really cared about the subject matter as much as Jeanine and Lisane did.”
Gallagher had long admired Jean-Michel Basquiat’s work from afar, so when the opportunity to work on his behalf came to her, the decision to take on the project was a no-brainer. The trio hired Sir David Adjaye to lead the exhibition’s design as they carefully placed over 200 pieces of art around the building. As the producer, Gallagher had a unique perspective of watching both of Jean-Michel’s sisters work together to create the show.
“The really extraordinary thing about the two of them is that they are two completely different people, but they respect each other’s vision and every decision that they made was jointly,” Gallagher said. “They never cut the other one out of making a decision, they always worked together to achieve. Whether there was a compromise or whether they were in total agreement, they always worked together to achieve those decisions.”
Lisane offered additional insight into that process:
“Jeanine and I were in our 20s when Jean-Michel passed away, and it was a complete blindside to our family. This project has been cathartic in a lot of ways and very healing. The dynamic between the three of us [is] I am the middle child, Jeanine is the youngest, and Jean-Michel was the oldest. When you have that triad of siblings and one goes away, it’s like a stool without one leg. So we’ve had to work around that wound and loss over the decades since Jean-Michel passed away.”
“The other side of this is [the exhibition] is also a filled in gap for our children,” Jeanine added. “Only one was alive when Jean-Michel was alive so for those other four, it’s been fulfilling in order for them to kind of get a different perspective of the uncle that we have been able to tell stories about. It has not been easy for them to navigate, and so I think this has helped a bit in creating a gift to them being a gift to them and their legacy.”
With the show having now been open for nearly a month, the Basquiat family has also been able to soak in all of the love and admiration fans have brought to them. “It’s one thing to have a vision; it’s another to actually execute it,” Jeanine said. “I think that a lot of the response that we’ve been receiving is exactly what was intended. People are actually feeling his energy, how he came to be, what his influences were and what he was inspired by.”
The exhibition is set to be open until the end of the summer, but as with any successful art exhibition, there is one question consistently arising: Where will the show travel next?
A sequel to “King Pleasure” is not currently on the horizon, but Lisane and Jeanine are open to challenges once the pair recovers from the opening of the first show. “We’ve had some thoughts, and we’re trying to wrap our heads around what we just presented,” explained Jeanine, while Lisane added, “We haven’t even gone on vacation yet! We have been working, but we’ll see what the future holds.”
As the two sisters prepare to rest, something that they have thought about is what their brother Jean-Michel would say if he saw the exhibition today. Both Lisane and Jeanine agree that Jean-Michel would say, “Thank you, and let’s all go someplace and hang out. Let’s go to Maui.”