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Charming, Doomed Art Boys
By Suzi Steffen
CONVERSATIONS WITH JEAN-MICHEL BASQUIAT: Directed by Tamra Davis. Jean-Michel Basquiat, Tamra Davis. Arthouse Films, 2006. NR. 22 minutes.
THE UNIVERSE OF KEITH HARING: Directed by Christina Clausen. Fab 5 Freddy, Keith Haring, Bill T. Jones, Grace Jones, Yoko Ono, Kenny Scharf, Andy Warhol. Arthouse Films, 2007. NR. 90 minutes.
Since Jean-Michel Basquiat died of a drug overdose at age 27 in 1988, the art world and art historians have re-evaluated his gorgeous, skilled, thickly referential painting out of the “street” classification and into the academy.
Since Keith Haring died of AIDS at age 31 in 1990, his pop-inflected designs have become ubiquitous and synonymous with gay activism but also coloring books and joyful, colorful street art. You can see a little of Basquiat and a lot of Haring in these two movies, showing at the Downtown Initiative for the Visual Arts this weekend.
A longer, feature documentary about Basquiat should come at some point from Arthouse, happily. There’s an awkward juxtaposition between the white pop artist’s hour and a half hagiography, gloriously revealing of early 1980s gay life in N.Y. and of Haring’s ebullience as it is, and the 22-minute interview with Basquiat. That’s even more apparent when Basquiat says that profiles have focused on his personality instead of his art because of racism, and the next words out of his interviewer’s mouth include “well-spoken” and “articulate.” The Basquiat movie is redeemed by many shots of his work, and the Haring shows a time and a culture that Haring, a small-town guy from Pennsylvania, fully inhabited and definitely shaped. Losing both so young means we’ll really never know what we lost, and seeing Basquiat’s work makes the weight of that tragedy more apparent than ever.
Conversations with Jean-Michel Basquiat and The Universe of Keith Haring show at DIVA, 110 W. Broadway, at 5 pm and 7:20 pm Thursday, May 7; 5 pm, 7:20 pm and 9:40 pm Friday, May 8; and 1 pm (with discussion), 5 pm, 7:20 pm and 9:40 pm Saturday, May 9. $6.