Thursday, September 23, 2010

The Radiant Child-go see it

Studio: 9.22.10

I went to see the Tamra Davis documentary about painter Jean-Michel Basquiat, "The Radiant Child" last Friday. I definitely recommend seeing this film, if you have any interest in Basquiat's work or just to get a glimpse of how the New York art scene in the '80's developed. The film itself is formed around an interview Davis did with Basquiat in 1986, when he was a rising star in the art world. Davis shelved the footage she had until fairly recently. "The Radiant Child" consists of the interview Tamra Davis did interspersed with archive footage of Basquiat at work, photos, and interviews with a number of poeple who were close friends, collectors and dealers. It charts Basquiat's meteroric rise to international art star and just as quick fall. There is a lot of footage of Basquiat that has not been seen before, especially of him talking, working, dancing, and being himself in the studio and out. Some of the anger that he felt towards how he was treated comes through, as well. He got recognition, but didn't feel respected enough as a person and artist. 

Through the film, you get a good sense of the pressures Basquiat had to deal with being the African-American male art superstar of the time. He wanted fame and got it, but not without serious consequences for someone who was ill-prepared for dealing with the world he was thrust into and didn't seem to have a significant personal support system in New York. What you don't get with "The Radiant Child" is a hard look at how the people in the art world used him and how he used others to get what he wanted, but that doesn't seem to be Davis' objective here. She's more interested in humanizing the image of Basquiat as celebrity artist while casting a hard eye on the culture of celebrity. So, yes, go see it. 

Like most docs about artists whose work I like, it was good to hear his own take on what was happening around him and with his work at the time. I'm glad that Tamra Davis chose to share this footage and was able to get this film made. I was only obliquely aware of what was going on in the New York art world duirng the 80's. I was in high school during the first half, just learning about art via European Old Master and Impressionism. I had very little clue about what was going on with contemporary art at the time and didn't really get a lot of it. 

I remember reading about the crazy amounts of money that people were spending on art and a few names stood out like Basquiat, Julian Schnabel, Francesco Clememte, Jeff Koons, and a few other 'big names',  but there was little of what I saw of contemporary art that I liked at the time. That was because of a lack of understanding, on my part, of much art past Post-Impressionism at the time. I remember knowing about some of the social issues surrounding the art world in the 80's because those same issues, like the underrepresentation of blacks and women in top corporate positions, to name one, were a fact of life on the news and in the streets. I remember thinking that it was cool that a black male visual artist had made it in the art world to the point of being an international art star, a rare thing in those days. Not only that, but that Basquiat had been a street artist who 'made it'. It seemed that everyone except white males were considered as being underrepresented in big-name galleries and museums.  With all of that, I didn't really appreciate the depth of Basquiat's work until the mid-90's, once the noise of the 80's began to fade and I was casting a wider net during a time of personal growth as a painter. 

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