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The Scoop: “King Pleasure” is a limited-time exhibition in Los Angeles showcasing the life and art of the American neo-expressionist artist Jean-Michel Basquiat. Organized and curated by his sisters, Lisane Basquiat and Jeanine Heriveaux, the immersive experience explores Basquiat’s contributions to history, art, and culture. The exhibition displays Basquiat’s concern with music, pop culture, and the Black experience, and traces his life through rare art pieces owned by his estate. The exhibition makes a wonderful date night that encourages reflection and discussion.
I took three art history classes in college; the last was a survey of 20th-century American art. The class readings were dense and verbose and demanded that notes be scribbled in the margins. We were presented with our final project at the end of the semester. The assignment was a five-page formal analysis of any piece of art in the nearby High Museum of Art in Atlanta.
The assignment required at least three trips to the museum, located over 35 minutes away from where I lived. My partner agreed to go to the museum with me, and what started as an annoying school assignment became three consecutive Sundays of quiet, reflective time with my partner. We would sit in front of the piece I selected, exchanging a few words every now and then as I sketched and made notes about the piece.
Art can evoke strong emotions, and experiencing art with a partner, no matter the medium, can be an intimate and powerful experience. Beyond the experience, discussing thoughts and feelings about a piece of art is revealing and vulnerable.
Immersive art exhibitions are a great way to connect with others, whether it be the artist or the people experiencing the art. “King Pleasure,” an immersive exhibit showcasing Jean-Michel Basquiat’s diverse body of work, highlights this connective ability. Organized and curated by the Estate of Jean-Michel Basquiat, the exhibition features never-before-seen works that explore the icon’s contributions to American history and art.
Rose Odeh is the spokesperson for the exhibition, and she told us about what a date to the immersive experience would entail. Basquiat’s work explores nuanced aspects of music, the Black experience, pop culture, Black American sports figures, and literature, among other topics. “I think the beauty of this exhibition is that it’s curated by his sisters and told through the lens of the family,” Rose said. “This really takes you on a journey through his life and works, you really intimately get to know who Jean-Michel Basquiat was.”
“King Pleasure” is certainly about the art of Basquiat, but it’s more about his life. Now one of the most expensive American visual artists, Basquiat never went to art school and is arguably the most famous self-taught artist. While he never received formal art education, his childhood in Brooklyn exposed him to a world of art, music, and literature.
Jean-Michel Basquiat was born to Gerard Basquiat and Matilde Andrades in 1960. Basquiat’s two younger sisters, Lisane and Jeanine, would come about a few years later and are the ones who organized and curated “King Pleasure.” Basquiat began drawing when he was very young and was inspired by his mother, who had a strong interest in fashion design and sketching.
Matilde would often take Basquiat to the Brooklyn Museum and the Museum of Modern Art. Basquiat is quoted as saying, “I’d say my mother gave me all the primary things. The art came from her.” Throughout his childhood, his parents encouraged him to pursue his interest in art while also earnestly pursuing a formal education.
Basquiat’s parents separated and after a bout in Puerto Rico, Basquiat, his sisters, and father returned to Brooklyn. Basquiat transferred to a progressive Manhattan high school where he met Al Diaz, who would become a close friend and artistic collaborator. Diaz was a graffitist, and he and Basquiatwould regularly practice graffiti together across the boroughs. The two would work together on SAMO, or “Same Old Shit,” a graffiti project.
After leaving high school, Basquiat became ingrained in the up-and-coming downtown New York art scene, which was overwhelmingly white at the time. Basquiat was quickly disillusioned by this scene, which he said felt was one-dimensional and empty. He continued his art journey and was increasingly influenced by African ideologies and diasporas.
Basquiat went on to achieve success in his lifetime and collaborated with many artists, including Andy Warhol. He struggled with varying degrees of drug abuse from the time he was a teenager. On August 12, 1988, Jean-Michel Basquiat tragically died at 27 due to acute mixed drug intoxication.
“King Pleasure” is an exploration of Basquiat’s life, using his art as a guide. The exhibition goes beyond the traditional art gallery, creating environments that fully immerse the viewer in the art. “King Pleasure” features over 200 never-before-seen and rarely shown paintings, drawings, multimedia presentations, ephemera, and artifacts.
Rose told us that the limited nature of the exhibition sets it up to be a memorable date night. It’s a rare opportunity to investigate Basquiat’s life through the lens of his family. “You’re never going to see this level of a vast collection of Jean-Michael Basquiat in one place,” Rose said.
Basquiat held a cross-cultural perspective and had interests in many areas. From music to fashion to film, Basquiat’s interests were eclectic. “King Pleasure” gives insight into these varied interests and how they impacted Basquiat’s life, work, and legacy. Viewing art is one thing, experiencing its contexts and implications is another.
The exhibition’s name came from a painting created by Basquiat in 1987. Titled “King Pleasure,” the painting was named after a jazz vocalist who rose to fame with his 1952 hit “Moody’s Mood For Love.” The song was played often through Basquiat’s adolescence, and his father, Gerard, was said to be fond of the song.
“King Pleasure” collects intimate pieces of Basquiat’s life. From childhood drawings to other ephemera, these pieces offer viewers a glimpse of the aspects of Basquiat that are not as frequently exposed. The exhibition is housed in The Grand LA, a retail, entertainment and residential complex in downtown Los Angeles designed by architect Frank Gehry. He designed The Grand as a centerpiece for Grand Avenue that promotes community gatherings, arts, and performances.
Los Angeles was an important city to Basquiat, who regularly visited and stayed there from 1982-1984. He valued living and working in Los Angeles and felt it gave him the time and space to focus wholly on his art. Basquiat’s experience in Los Angeles was meaningful and affecting, as he participated in many collaborations during his time there.
The “King Pleasure” exhibition is the first exhibition ever organized by the Estate of Jean-Michele Basquiat and the estate owns all of the pieces displayed in the exhibition. “King Pleasure” goes beyond a curation of his most famous works – it is Basquiat as his sisters, best friends, and closest collaborators remember him.
The exhibition includes a replica of Basquiat’s childhood home, stories of his time in New York City and Los Angeles, and personal family stories through video content. Just as Basquiat received inspiration from many sources, “King Pleasure” draws from nearly every artistic corner. The exhibition ends with a replication of a New York City nightclub, The Palladium, offering a place to lounge and reflect.
Rose said the exhibition’s eclectic nature makes it perfect for couples with varying interests. “There’s something for everyone to connect with,” she said. “If you love music and your partner loves pure art, you’re both going to get something extremely valuable out of the storytelling at work here.”
“King Pleasure” is perfect for LA couples who want to experience their city and iconic art all at once. The Grand LA is in a bustling area, adjacent to the Disney Concert Hall and close to the Music Center and The Broad Museum. The area offers a quintessential LA feel with palm tree-lined streets and large-scale architecture.
Date nights to art exhibitions offer a fun and memorable experience for couples to share together. “King Pleasure” gives dating couples the chance to discuss not only Basquiat’s work but the cultural influences that informed his art. It explores many facets of American culture as Basquiat experienced it, from Black manhood and class hierarchy to popular music.
One of the driving forces behind the estate’s decision to create “King Pleasure” was to humanize Jean-Michele Basquiat. As is common with other iconic artists, Basquiat is often remembered solely for what he created at the expense of remembering who he was. Through “King Pleasure,” the estate insists that Basquiat was and is not only his art but a remarkable person whose life warrants exploration.
The ways in which Basquiat reckoned with his society and culture resonate today. Basquiat’s lived experiences and how he responded to them, through art and other means, offer insights into race, power, class, and identity. “People will relate to all the different elements that tie back to poignant issues that we face today, everyone will see something different. That’s the beauty of Basquiat’s work,” Rose said.
“King Pleasure” elevates the standard museum date night to the next level. Aside from its immersive nature, the exhibition raises questions about the society and culture people experience daily. The exhibition encourages intimacy and vulnerability since it comes from an authentic source.
“I think with the times that we all faced over the last several years, the estate felt it was time for them to share drawings and art pieces that haven’t been seen before,” Rose said. “‘King Pleasure’ gives Basquiat a voice through the lens that can only be told by his family.”