A discussion with artist Alvaro Barrington. Barrington is a London-based painter who uses a
variety of materials in the production of his visionary art. His work takes on many forms, but
always strives for cultural authenticity. In the conversation we talk about his influences, his
worldview and his latest show up now through April 30th at Blum and Poe in LA.
Craig: [00:00:10] This is Art Sense, a podcast focused on educating and informing listeners about the past, present and future of art. I'm Craig Gould. On today's episode, I speak with Ileen Gallagher, an event producer who has worked with the estate of Jean-Michel Basquiat to create an immersive experience that it introduces viewers to the iconic artist from the perspective of his family. Interviews with Basquiat's younger sisters Jeanine and Lisane, his stepmother, Nora, and a variety of friends are interspersed with personal effects and mementos that he left behind, as well as more than 200 works of art that have never been seen in public. The exhibit launches April 9th at the Starrett Lehigh Building in Chelsea with a companion book available this spring wherever you buy books. At the end of the episode, I'll take a look at some of the week's top art headlines. But first, creating an intimate and immersive portrait of Jean-Michel Basquiat with Ileen Gallagher. Craig: [00:01:25] Ileen Gallagher, thank you for joining me today on the Art Sense podcast to talk about the new exciting exhibit that's coming up this spring in New York, which is Jean-Michel Basquiat: King Pleasure. Where should we start? How did the exhibit come about? Ileen: [00:01:42] So the estate of Jean-Michel, that's run by his two sisters, Jeanine and Lisane, and and his stepmother, Nora Fitzpatrick. They have a large collection of Jean-Michel's work that's never been seen. And it's an idea that's been brewing since 2017, I'd say when they first approached me to help them conceive of this exhibition. And so I had curated an exhibition of the Rolling Stones and they had seen it and it resonated with them because kind of some of it was kind of straight exhibition of kind of works of art and other parts of it were more immersive. And that was something that they thought that they wanted for this exhibition. And so we started to kind of talk about it and looked at places. And it turned out in 2017, they really weren't ready to kind of go full force. In August of 2020, they called me again and said, okay, we're ready now. So we started putting together the exhibition. They have selected all the works for the exhibition. It is kind of it's not your typical Jean-Michel exhibit. It's not kind of a white wall art exhibition. David Adjaye has designed a very kind of bespoke environment for these works. It's kind of these very beautiful hand-hewn wood walls and different tones. There's music in many parts of the exhibition. There are three kind of immersive environments one showing his childhood home, one showing his studio, and the third one showing the VIP room of the Palladium nightclub.Show More >
Craig: [00:03:37] And so are those like recreations of those types of rooms. Ileen: [00:03:42] They are. They're kind of like I call them evocation and recreations. But yes, we have the two original paintings from the Palladium and we have video and music playing in there to kind of evoke a nightclub setting. We're recreating part of Jean-Michel's studio at Great Jones Street and then also creating little pieces of his childhood home in Brooklyn. Craig: [00:04:10] I haven't had the opportunity to obviously see the exhibit yet, but I have read the accompanying book from from cover to cover. You know, there are places in there where there are playlists, kind of like the Great Jones playlist and maybe what his father Gerrard would listen to at home. Is that sort of what we can expect musically in those different spaces? Ileen: [00:04:34] Yeah, there are four playlists that were put together by Janine and Lisane, one childhood, another one music that he was listening to in his studio. Another one for the Palladium nightclub and another one by artists who have been influenced by Jean-Michel since his passing. And actually, we're working with Spotify, and you'll be able to link to those complete playlists through Spotify. Craig: [00:04:59] That's really interesting. So you mentioned that Jeanine and Lisane maybe weren't necessarily fully ready in 2017, but were fully ready in late 2020. I don't want to make any assumptions, but what do you think changed? Ileen: [00:05:18] I think, you know, I mean, I've worked on a lot of these types of projects, and I don't think that people really realize the enormity of the task when they first start out. And I think that it took them a while to kind of fully wrap their heads around it. They wanted to be fully in control of the project, both curatorially and financially. And so, and they wanted to make sure that they had the resources in both capacities to make this exhibition happen. Craig: [00:05:48] You know, that kind of leads me to another question, which is it seems like traditionally we would think of this sort of exhibit being held in conjunction with a specific museum. What circumstances led the estate to choose the private path? Ileen: [00:06:09] Well, because they wanted to control the narrative and they are the curators of the project and they didn't want a museum to kind of take over the narrative. I mean, the most important thing about this project, I think, is that it's. Family presenting the story of Jean-Michel. It's not any outsider. It's the people who knew him the best, telling his story and showing his artwork and providing kind of a window into his life and his work that has never been seen before. And so they. So in order to do that, they just felt that a museum would kind of subsume many parts of this project, and they wanted complete autonomy. Craig: [00:06:53] As I went through the King Pleasure accompanying book, it's obvious that it's a very intimate, loving portrait of a family member. Right? And the text that I'm reading in that book, does that wind up on the museum wall or is there audio of conversations with the sisters? How is that presented to the viewer? Ileen: [00:07:16] So the exhibition is divided into different sections and there is introductory text information for each section. There's also video interviews with various members of friends and family who who knew Jean-Michel that are also kind of interwoven into the exhibition. So in the childhood section, there's interviews with Jeanine and Lisane and some other childhood friends in the studio. Actually, there's video of Jean-Michel painting that's projected onto the walls in another part of the gallery. There are videos about Jean-Michel becoming famous when he was famous. And then there are also there's a legacy video that talks about kind of his impact and his life. So there are quite a few kind of videos kind of that add a little another layer of information for visitors. Craig: [00:08:13] The book is laid out in obviously those chronological orders and you get to the end. And it's apparent that in the tragic aftermath of of his passing, the family had to pack up everything from that residence because it was a leased space. And the landlord wanted that space back. All that artwork and personal effects were moved into a warehouse. I can't imagine even just what all that includes. What are some of the more interesting things that you had to sift through to figure out whether you or the family wanted to be part of the exhibit? Because I imagine there was a whole array of things, right? Ileen: [00:08:58] Yeah, there were a lot of personal effects and a lot of them will be included in the exhibition. I mean, there's some wonderful notes. There's objects that he collected from his trip to Africa and other travels that will also be included in the exhibition, his bicycle, which is legendary, that he kind of rode around New York because he had trouble catching a cab that's included in the exhibition. One of the things I found the most fascinating was that Jean-Michel was a consumer of culture on many levels music, movies, books, and there was quite a vast collection of all of those things. But the one thing, there were hundreds and hundreds of videotapes of movies, and they're cataloged in the book. But it's an absolute fascinating list. And I was just really taken with that. It's pretty much every great movie from the sixties, seventies, eighties and all the way back to the turn of the century actually. So pretty amazing. Craig: [00:10:00] Know that was something that struck me also is like when you when you see his work, you know, it's obvious that he's just pulling things from from history. He's pulling things from popular culture. He's just pulling, pulling, pulling. And it sounded like the way he created art was just as something popped into his head, he would stop whether he was, you know, eating a bagel or talking to someone and just walk over and add text to a piece. And I can only imagine how he would have reacted with the access that the Internet gives us these days, because it seems like he was really an autodidact in terms of just consuming history, consuming media. Ileen: [00:10:41] Yeah, no, I think that that's very true. I mean, I think you kind of hit the nail on the head that he was kind of influenced by so many different things and he had such a vast knowledge of so many things. That's what's so extraordinary. I mean, Anita Say tells a story about kind of meeting Jean-Michel and him giving her a book about Duchamp. And she says, like, how many artists of that, you know, that young and that kind of just starting out in their careers would have known about Duchamp. I mean, so he just had such an appetite for learning and for history and culture. Craig: [00:11:17] And so let me ask you this. What what do you think it is about Jean-Michel that you think continues to resonate with people as much now as it's ever been? Ileen: [00:11:32] I think it's because well, first of all, esthetically his work is pretty phenomenal. But I think also the references in his work and kind of the more that you look at them, the kind of the more you learn and the more aha moments that you have. I mean, they're so kind of deeply layered that they just continually kind of teach you new things. I mean, I learned kind of so much just kind of working with Janine and Lisane. On looking at his paintings. It was pretty phenomenal. And I think also there's a there's a mythology around him. And I think the thing that's so unique about this project is that kind of his story has been told by so many different people in so many different ways. And this is really the first time that the family is really kind of is telling the story in a way that it needs to be told. And it's never been told like this before. Craig: [00:12:27] You've seen this version of the story, and I'm sure you've seen Radiant Child in different versions of the story. How do you sense this story looking or feeling different? Is it just that the intimate nature or what do you think? Ileen: [00:12:47] I mean, I think it's sad, but it's also that this story is really being told by Jean-Michel and the family. I mean, before this, like every other exhibition was being told by a curator or being told by somebody who knew him, and that was more about them than it was about Jean-Michel and the family. And this project is really about Jean-Michel and the people that knew him very well and intimately. So that's what I think is really the difference. Craig: [00:13:17] My impression is that to do your job successfully, you kind of have to find the narrative right. And what is the story that you find as you go through the exhibit? I mean, is there just one story or is it just memories in commemoration? And what is the story? Ileen: [00:13:40] Well, I mean, the story is about kind of growing up and kind of setting the stage for growing up in Brooklyn, living in Puerto Rico for several years, kind of the family dynamic, Jean-Michel's roots and his relationship with members of his family. And then it really starts to talk about his creative process and kind of this all consuming passion to create art. And there's other threads about kind of like nightlife and New York City and kind of all of these things are kind of woven through the narrative. You know, when you when you enter the exhibition, the first part of the exhibition is called 1960, The Year He Was Born. So that kind of like sets you up for for kind of his very early, early years. And then there's family movies of him as a baby. And then you move into Kings County, which is kind of really his formative years and growing up in Brooklyn. And then you move into kind of world famous and blue ribbon and world famous. This is kind of emergence into the art world. And blue ribbon are the works of art that Lisane and Jeanine considered to be masterpieces in their collection. So there's this kind of there's this rhythm in the exhibition where you're kind of in galleries that are just purely looking at art, and then you're kind of in these immersive environments that kind of take you a little bit deeper into Jean-Michel's world. Craig: [00:15:16] Let me ask you, in the course of sitting down with the family to go through all of the possible incarnations. Is there a favorite piece or part of the exhibit that, you know, really resonated with you? Ileen: [00:15:33] It's hard to say. I mean, I think the studio setup is really special because there's so many personal artifacts and works of art in there. And also the fact that we're kind of having this projection of Jean-Michel painting. I mean, the idea is that you kind of feel his real kind of creative process when you enter this environment. So that's probably my favorite part. And there's music playing as well. So. Craig: [00:16:01] You know, I know that the these immersive Van Gogh exhibits became all the rage last year. Was there ever the temptation to try to take it to to that level of what's the best way to say it...showmanship? Ileen: [00:16:18] Oh, god, no. Craig: [00:16:19] All right. I was hoping you would say that. Ileen: [00:16:21] No, absolutely not. I mean, when we talk about immersive environments, we talk about immersive environments with real artifacts and real things, as well as audio and video. It's not one dimensional like Van Gogh was. This is very three dimensional in many ways. So. So, yeah. No, we wouldn't. We wouldn't attempt anything like that. Craig: [00:16:45] If someone comes to the exhibit. Do you think there's going to be a particular part of the exhibit that especially surprises someone when when you got into helping the family and look at all of this, all this material, what surprised you? What what did you come across that where you're like this? This is amazing. This is something I would have never anticipated. Ileen: [00:17:13] I mean, I think it's just that number, the sheer number of works that have never been seen and the drawings and the intimacy of the drawings are really pretty spectacular. I mean, obviously they have some masterpieces and some of his paintings on wooden fences and wood and large canvases. But I think the drawings are pretty extraordinary and there's a lot of them in the exhibition. Also, kind of the family photographs and the personal artifacts are also pretty amazing. I think it's just really the combination of all of that that just gives we'll give visitors a picture of Jean-Michel that they've never had before. Craig: [00:17:51] So are there any thoughts about the exhibit traveling? What do you think? Ileen: [00:17:56] Yes, I think we're exploring the possibilities of a traveling. Craig: [00:18:01] Again, it's probably not a question you have an answer to, but has the family ever thought about having a permanent space? Ileen: [00:18:10] I think it might be something they could be considering in the future. But this is kind of it's almost this is almost like dipping your toe in the water know in terms of exhibitions and showing his work publicly. So I don't think anything's off the table. Craig: [00:18:27] I read about some of the things that you've done, and it looks like you've really created some amazing visitor experiences over the years. Ileen: [00:18:35] Oh, thanks. Craig: [00:18:36] You mentioned the Rolling Stones, but, you know, it looks like there's just a whole list of amazing experiences that you've been involved with over the years. Can you just kind of call to mind a few that kind of highlight, you know, the best of your career. Ileen: [00:18:52] Sure. Well, I mean, I've been lucky to work with some of the cultural icons. I worked with Walt Disney's daughter on the Walt Disney Museum in San Francisco, which was a very kind of unique project. And again, kind of working with a family legacy and dynasty to create a very personal portrait of a man. That was pretty extraordinary. And then I would say also Harley-Davidson's 100th anniversary, again, kind of a cultural icon of a company with really kind of a big popular culture aspect to to their motorcycles. I think those are a couple of the things that I've worked on. I also worked at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame for several years. So I really I really kind of embrace these stories that you can really tell history through kind of popular culture and cultural identification with the subject matter. You know, and Jean-Michel is the same way. I mean, his even though he's a fine artist, kind of his legacy is kind of way beyond just his artwork. And that's what I think is the commonality between all the other projects I've worked on as well. Same thing with the Rolling Stones. I mean, they're musicians, but their cultural influence goes way beyond their music. Craig: [00:20:18] And so, you know, it was it was obvious, you know, part of the story. I hate to backtrack for a moment back to the story, but, you know, it seemed like part of the story, you know, at least as it's laid out in the book. And I feel like other people have kind of touched on it before is Jean-Michel's relationship with his father and his father's expectations based on the expectations his culture had on him growing up? They both wanted success, but it was obvious that how Jean-Michel was going about it didn't really seem to lend itself to any sort of confidence that success was going to happen. And is that complicated relationship between his father's expectations and trying to fulfill that in his own way, is that something that is touched on in the exhibit? Ileen: [00:21:11] Yeah. I mean, I think it is I mean, probably more in the book than in the exhibition. But I mean, the irony is that Gerard Basquiat had kind of like a similar trajectory to his son. I mean, he left Haiti as a young man with basically nothing to seek fame and fortune in New York City. And, you know, when you think kind of what Jean-Michel went through, it wasn't dissimilar. I mean, in some ways, he kind of left home and felt that this was something that he had to do. And, you know, I think Gerard was kind of worried for him. What happens if he didn't succeed? I mean, you want the best for your children and. You know, I mean, being an artist isn't exactly a sure path to success, that's for sure. Craig: [00:21:57] Absolutely. Ileen: [00:22:00] So I think that that's really the narrative that, you know, Gerard supported him along the way, but was so kind of worried and concerned that how difficult it was going to be. But the determination of Jean-Michel, you know, kind of led him on this path. Craig: [00:22:22] The specifics for the exhibit, it's the stair Starrett-Lehigh Building, correct? Ileen: [00:22:27] Correct. Craig: [00:22:28] And when does the show open? Ileen: [00:22:31] April 9th. Craig: [00:22:32] April 9th. And if folks were interested in the show or the book, is there a website to direct people to? Ileen: [00:22:42] Yes. The King Pleasure website. https://kingpleasure.basquiat.com/ Craig: [00:22:46] What else should we know, Ileen? Is there is there anything that I have failed to to highlight that you think is really interesting? Ileen: [00:22:56] I think you've done a very good job. The other thing I would add is that the Palladium space that we're creating during the run of the exhibition will be having special events and programs in there. We've been working with Vice is another one of our sponsors and they are going to be working with us for some fashion shows, films, talkbacks. So we're really trying to activate that space during the run of the exhibition as well. Craig: [00:23:25] Interesting. So in addition to an exhibit, you've created a nightclub right there. Ileen: [00:23:32] Exactly. We want everybody to kind of relive their misspent youth in the 1980s. And if you haven't if you weren't alive, then you have a chance to do it now. Craig: [00:23:43] Has anyone asked to be married in the exhibit yet? Ileen: [00:23:47] Not yet. Well, listen, the exhibition hasn't. It's not it's not fully birthed yet. So it's still is still working on it. And we'll be working up until the last minute to get everything perfect. Craig: [00:23:59] So are you under stress right now? Ileen: [00:24:02] Just a little. Just a little. So but yeah, you know, it's going to be amazing. I think it will really blow people's minds. I mean, I think just the combination of Jean-Michel’s work in this environment designed by David Adjaye, is so unique and so magnificent that I think people will just be absolutely blown away by it. Craig: [00:24:31] Well, Ileen, it's been a real pleasure speaking with you today. I can't wait to experience the exhibit myself. And I wish you the best of luck in trying to get sleep between now and April 9th. Ileen: [00:24:46] Thank you so much. Craig: [00:27:59] And now the news. Craig: [00:27:59] We’re beginning to see a roll back of vaccine and mask policies at museums as fears over the Omicron COVID variant finally wind down. As of March 7, New York City has finally eliminated local vaccine and mask policies, but that doesn’t mean that vaccine and mask policies aren’t still in place. While museums like The Met and the Brooklyn Museum no longer require the precautions, museums like MOMA and the Whitney do. In DC, The Smithsonian and the National Gallery no longer require masks. On the west coast, LACMA is still requiring vaccination proof and masks, while other museums like MOCA require a mask if you do not have proof of vaccination. The bottom line is if you’re not vaccinated you probably want to check your museum’s policy before heading out to that show you’re planning to see. In response to the fighting in the Ukraine, the French Culture Ministry has designated one million euros to set up three month residencies and a telephone help line for Ukranian and Russian-dissident artists displaced by the conflict. If you’re looking for ways to you can get involved in supporting artists displaced by the conflict, we have a few suggestions: The Ukrainian Emergency Art Fund is a fundraising campaign from the Kyiv-based art gallery The Naked Room which is representing Ukraine at the Venice Biennale. Funds from the campaign will go directly to aid Ukrainian artists and culture workers. You can learn more at ueaf.moca.org.ua The folks behind the Art Support Pledge have created the Ukraine Support Pledge on Instagram. Use the hashtag #ukrainesupportpledge to find work for sale for either $200 or £200 each whose proceeds will be donated to relief funds through the JustGiving site. The France-based Galerie Poggi is currently holding a sale of work by one its artists who resides in Kyiv and is currently taking refuge there in an art gallery that had previously been a Soviet-era bomb shelter. Proceeds of the sale of works by Nikita Kadan will benefit the artist and an emergency relief fund. You can get more details at http://galeriepoggi.com/ And lastly, check out your favorite NFT marketplace. Each is promoting a sale of NFTs that benefit ware relief efforts. If you haven’t dipped your toe into the NFT water yet, this might be the perfect reason to take that first step. Craig: [00:27:59] That's all the time we have for this week. You've been listening to Art Sense. You can find the show on Apple Podcasts, iTunes, Google Play, Stitcher, Radio, Spotify or your favorite podcast app. If you've enjoyed this podcast, be sure to subscribe. And while you're there, please rate the show and leave a quick review. Your feedback is the key to other folks finding us. And if you'd like to see images related to the conversation, read the transcript and find other bonus features. You can go to Canvia art and click on the podcast tab. If you'd like to reach out to me, you can email me at email@example.com. Thanks for listening.
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