Warhol and Basquiat at the Brooklyn Museum


So maybe it’s not entirely true that a shallow thought rules but maybe immediacy and a good and true first impulse? The show at Brooklyn Museum of Warhol and Basquiat is a good example. We all rate Warhol now as the most influential artist of the 20th century. Even though he seemed to be a little out of ideas and digging through a 1960′s playbook for these late paintings from the 80′s. Basquiat was chock full of exploding themes involving black culture, hip hop and a rock out Jimi Hendrix like painting style. Andy who did so much for us in the 60′s: the invention of Pop, the Coke bottle silkscreens which just grow better and carry more import, producer of ultra superstars, and the Velvet Underground now seemed to be on cruise control tracing Yamaha motorcycles and steaks on canvas waiting for King James’ nitro energy blast.

In his last years we used to see Andy, scouring the Sixth Ave flea markets, a lime green jump-suited assistant in tow carrying multiple shopping bags filled with never to be looked at again collectibles. “Don’t care if it is Andy Warhill, he ain’t getting this for $50!’ swap venders would cry as he left their stalls on Sunday mornings in the underground garage.

Andy’s idea of shallow, one famous quote proclaims “I am deeply shallow” on a pillow case for sale at the Brooklyn Museum store, is fine. But only goes so far. You have to be a naive or a naturally gifted genius to pull it off. Which he and Basquiat were. Today we like them but universally hate trendy poseurs like Richard Prince and Elizabeth Peyton. Ask any one from Sotheby’s auctioneers, gallery owners to art mover guys and street artists working in Central Park, they tell us Basquiat’s work just gets better and better while others from that 80′s era just look embarrassing. One huge and horrid example of this decade of excess, taking into account not even Schnabels’ drek, is the David Salle painting with the giant word King Kong lettered in, some figures stumping away and a 50′s chair glued on the canvass. Stays with you like a large, free cheese sample from the flea market.

We now think vapid/trendy is bad, but shallow can be very good. If done by a true talent. And only if the artist is just painting and not thinking about it too much.

Aren’t we all just a little sick of meaningful art and the headache inducing chore of trying to figure it out? Basquiat’s work can be just enjoyed, great colors, black and white rhythmic patterns, the cool words written all over. His paintings are fresh and look like he was having fun. Yet the art critics (actually in the Brooklyn Museum book, which in the end is redeemed by great art reproductions) insist on saying things like ” Close inspection reveals that this head, unlike a skull is alive and responsive to external stimuli; as such it seems alert to our world while simultaneously allowing us to penetrate it’s psycho-spiritual recesses.” Too much thinking, college boy!

A piece arrived at Lift Trucks Project of some oranges on a table. And how relaxing! No meaning at all. Not painted like Zubarin or some famous art dude but just competent. Like opening a window during a stuffy art history 202 lecture by an Art Forum imbibing boor. And maybe that’s why Warhol gets better and better. The Cambell’s cans at MoMA? Stunning. They get more groovy with every new visit. Shallow? Well, yes and no. When asked how he arrived at that particular subject, he answered something along the lines of “I like soup”. Basquiat liked music, boxers and skulls. So he painted them. ‘Nuff said, said SAMO.

There are some rewards for embracing shallow thinking. Much easier that way really. Don’t analyze it; just go. Like a bronc rider; just climb up on the dang bull, hang on for 8 secs. Although a more obtainable goal for us might be to watch an entire NASCAR event without fidgeting, texting or doing anything. Falling asleep during the broadcast would be ok as you wouldn’t really miss the crashes. Instant reply is bully.

Many of us are coming around to believe that the less one thinks about it, the better. Never miss an opportunity to do nothing, to miss the next book reading by some famous author or the next hot must see group show in Brooklyn. Skip the grand gesture, the unnecessary e-mail and why not,not send another twitter message? Just stop. No one really wants to know what you are up to. Although they do seem to want you to know what they are up to.

Carries over to the music world: why are songs by Cool and The Gang still great? Raise your hand if you like Catch the Wind by Donovan. We do. But all the deep and meaningful, the politically charged stuff by sincere folkies like Joan Baez are now entirely unbearable. Keep it shallow, shallow is good.

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