Basquiat’s Notebooks at the Brooklyn Museum Offer a Glimpse Into the Private Life of an Icon

See our exclusive interview with the curators of "Basquiat: The Unknown Notebooks."


Jean-Michel Basquiat left an indelible mark on the art world—a mark, that is, made not only in paint but in pen-and-ink and pencil too. That mark is abundantly evident at the Brooklyn Museum’s current exhibition “Basquiat: The Unknown Notebooks.”

With over 160 never-before-seen pages pulled from eight personal journals juxtaposed with 32 paintings, the exhibition, which is on view through August 23, is a testament to Basquiat’s prolific nature as well as his dynamic inner life (see Basquiat and His Journals Unbound at the Brooklyn Museum).

“[Basquiat’s] effort was to rewrite contemporary art, and bring African-Americans into the fold,” notes Tricia Laughlin Bloom, former associate curator at the Brooklyn Museum in our exclusive video interview, above, with artnet News. “And he did that.”

“There’s this whole other side to his work, which is more contained and conceptual and poetic,” Bloom says of the exhibition.

In addition to giving visitors a glimpse inside Basquiat’s private world—which is filled with doodles and poems, half-heartedly crossed out words and scribbled grocery lists—the notebooks provide a new context with which to understand his paintings.

“He actually really transfers…these [notebook] aesthetics into larger scale painting,” explains guest curator and Basquiat scholar Dieter Buchhart. “It’s a lot about concrete, hip-hop poetry…but also the structure of the words, the structure of the poem provides a visual element.”

The show also features two videos of Basquiat—a three-minute short that shows him creating graffiti in the early 1980s along with a 23-minute interview. And for those who prefer to pore over each page of the journals at leisure, each page has been reproduced in the exhibition catalogue.

Whether you’re a nerd or a newcomer, “The Unknown Notebooks” won’t disappoint. “For people that are coming to Basquiat for the first time, they will find it exciting,” says Bloom. “But for Basquiat aficionados and fans, it’s going to be a real knockout.”

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