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Basquiat: Still Unequaled

Speaking of word-inclusive art, how about the work of the gone-too-soon genius Jean-Michel Basquiat? A big retrospective at the Barbican in London has images of some of his best work popping up all over the web. Basquiat started out scrawling cryptic sayings and observations on the building walls of NYC. He and his partner Al Diaz didn't stylize the words like graffiti artists did. They just put them up there straight and unadorned. This carried through into Basquiat's painting. Basquiat wasn't the first to use words in art – I think the cubists and people like Stuart Davis did that in the early 20th century. But he's the possibly the most memorable practitioner of that form. When Andy Warhol showed words and labels it was cool (not warm). When Basquiat did it, it was hot. He merged pop with pure expressionism like no one else. The music of his art merged free jazz, jazz jazz, and punk. There was a lot of that happening musically in the 80s, and Basquiat was the best …

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