I’d driven by at least twice without even noticing it–an imposing 1929 federal-revival former elementary school draped with two immense banners featuring the faces of Jean-Michel Basquiat on one side and Andy Warhol on the other. The School-Jack Shainman Gallery has been in Kinderhook for 5 years and the “Basquiat X Warhol” exhibit has been running since June. I nearly missed it.
This is fair warning that there are only three days left for you to get to see this work. The exhibit is only open on Saturdays and closes on Sept. 7.
On Thursday, as I pulled up to the building I felt a surge of excitement I hadn’t felt since visiting MOMA as a child. The relationship between Basquiat and Warhol is one I’ve read about in detail and seen portrayed in film and fiction. As a child, I’d hear stories about the Warhol era from my mother, who was a journalist in Manhattan at the time and had occasion to hang out at Warhol’s Factory.
The opportunity to get such an up-close and personal view of the work had me on pins and needles. Actually seeing it was even more electrifying. The School, rugged yet chic, imposing yet accessible, is well suited to host these works. The 30,000 square-foot building features a 5,000-foot exhibition space and 24-foot ceilings. The works are given space to breathe but visitors can get close enough to see every detail.
As you walk in, the first thing you see is the helmet adorned with Basquiat’s hair that the artist instructed Warhol to wear for 24 hours to understand what it was like to be black in America. There’s Warhol’s self-portrait on camouflage. A series of 45 plates, with marker drawings of fellow artists and creatives done by Basquiat, adorns one wall. The most striking and enveloping works are large canvas paintings that feature the artists’ collaborations—full of Warhol’s bright colors and Basquiat’s dripping dread.
Significant solo works by both artists also hang in the gallery.
The initial collaboration between Basquiat and Warhol was seen as a cheap publicity stunt to bring up Warhol’s needed relevancy and Basquiat more mainstream credentials. There was a sense it an act of vampirism and exploitation on Warhol’s part.
The New York Times ripped the initial exhibit. “The collaboration looks like one of Warhol’s manipulations,” Vivien Raynor wrote in her review “Basquiat, meanwhile, comes across as the all too willing accessory.”
Now, in person, these works feel vital—like watching two pieces of the world collide on canvas. Warhol reportedly painted the works first with Basquiat contributing later and, in some cases, almost completely painting over what Warhol’s contribution.
So what exactly is The School? Jack Shaiman gallery has two locations in the East Village of New York City and The School functions as a showcase for special collections.
The show is open the next three Saturdays, 11 AM to 6 PM.
There’s no question you should see the exhibit before it’s gone but I also recommend immersing yourself in other works relating to Basquiat and Warhol. Here are a few places to get started.
The 1996 film starring Jeffrey Wright and directed by artist Julian Schnabel might not be comprehensive or exactly accurate but it paints a number of intriguing scenes from throughout Basquiat’s rise to fame and tragic fall. It also features appearances by Courtney Love and David Bowie as Warhol.
Want a sense of what was going on? Who was in the room? This book provides a voyeuristic look into the artists’ relationship thanks to excerpts from Warhol’s diaries and his own pictures.
This exhaustive biography will tell you just about all you need to know about Warhol.
Also from 1996 this film starring Lili Taylor as Valerie Solanas the radical feminist who was so distraught over Warhol ignoring her requests to have him direct her screenplay that she shot him and Jared Harris of “Chernobyl” and “Mad Men” fame as Warhol should give you a sense of the kind of outsized role Warhol played in art and pop culture when he was at the height of his powers.
Take a deep dive into the musings of the man himself.