Too Young
For What?

We examine the past, present and future of
Jean-Michel Basquiat's legacy after a day of events,
installations and special performances celebrating
Basquiat's creativity

'Don't you think you're a bit young?'
'Too young for what?'

Basquiat's response to curator, Henry Geldzahler

Complementing our Basquiat: Boom For Real exhibition in the Art Gallery, Too Young for What? offered opportunities to develop young people’s creativity, showcasing a range of new work with and by young people from across east London and beyond.

But what does Basquiat and his practice mean to young and emerging artists? We explored Basquiat's artistic legacy through a range of art forms including music, performance, street art and poetry.

Barbican Guildhall Creative Learning curator Chris Webb shares his highlights from Too Young For What?

'Basquiat’s works often read like a hidden puzzle...'

'As a curator at Barbican Guildhall Creative Learning my role is to create opportunities for people to explore their creative voice and experience world-class arts in a very personal way.
While the exhibition Basquiat: Boom For Real provides visitors with a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to see many works of Jean-Michel Basquiat displayed together in London, I didn’t want to simply replicate it’s very thorough and thoughtful content for our centre-wide event Too Young For What?

Instead, I wanted to invite young people to trace the legacy of Jean-Michel Basquiat from 1980s Downtown New York to the creative scene here and now in 2017, by giving our visitors creative spaces and activities to examine and celebrate the relevance of Basquiat’s practice today.

Basquiat’s works often read like a hidden puzzle: cut, copied, coded and pasted with references to his idols, experiences and the information that surrounded him. We approached programming Too Young For What? as a metaphorical collage across our foyers. Mixing art forms, practices and themes, we wanted to give people a chance to cut/copy/paste Basquiat with room to bring in their own influences and ideas across all art forms.

At the centre of the day was the 'SAMO©, but different' stage. Co-curated with Poet in the City this stage featured a mix of artists, poets, musicians, performers and activists all of whom create work inspired by Basquiat or his way of working. Peppered throughout these performances were new pieces of commissioned work, including pieces from Paula Varjack and Jacob Sam-La Rose who were invited to respond to Basquiat’s life and work. Other performances in a series of themed sessions hosted by our Barbican Young Poets, included critically acclaimed writer and performer Gemma Weekes, literacy activist and poet Dorothea Smartt, poet Joshua Idehen and street artist Karim Samuels.

From this epicentre of creativity, a range of workshops and activities flowed across the Barbican’s foyers, each taking an element of Basquiat’s practice and playing with it in a modern context.

Holly Casio and Megan Pickering brought collage, text and DIY culture together through a hands-on zine workshop, while Slashstroke Magazine hosted a life-size collage studio – inviting visitors to step into 3D collages inspired by images of Basquiat at work.

A visitor enjoys his Slashstroke photography shoot © Camilla Greenwell

A visitor enjoys his Slashstroke photography shoot © Camilla Greenwell

Elsewhere, Polaroid artist Rhiannon Adam hosted ‘Breaking the Frame’ a workshop that reversed the digitisation process, going backwards from mobile phone to Polaroid, and then hacking the results to create a growing installation.

We were also pleased to be joined by artist Stanza and Binary Graffiti Club, who worked with a group of young people to write a manifesto and create art with spray paint in our foyers throughout the afternoon.

Poet in the City also hosted a series of in-depth discussions around the theme of appropriation, while the Barbican Young Programmers curated a Shorts Lounge that seamlessly blended films from 1982 to 2017, all examining whether creativity and community can thrive under the unchanging daily pressures of housing, employment and education.

Finally the question ‘what would Basquiat be doing in a digital world?’ led us to work with glitch artist and curator of ‘No Copyright Intended’, Antonio Roberts, who collaborated with illustrator Maria Middtun to create an ever-changing collage wall that mixed digital and paper contributions.

Timelapse of Antonio Roberts and Maria Middtun's glitch-art wall throughout the day

Too Young For What? was a smorgasbord of creative activity that invited our visitors to examine the past, present and future of Basquiat’s legacy.

The day concluded with a sharing of poet Keisha Thompson’s poetic chronicle of the day, a new work created in response to her observations. Her poem Curiosity Leads perfectly captures the spirit of the day and underlines just how relevant Basquiat’s legacy is now.

'Curiosity Leads'
Keisha Thompson

© Camilla Greenwell

As I stand here in this temple of empathy
I allow my thoughts to be led by simple curiosities.
I watch a cross section of this city sit in unison
elbows bracing, sharing the same air
but without the tension that you find on the tube.

My eyes dart towards the heady glitch collage
a digital mirage of communal spirit
that's the power of art, isn't it?
Grants us the time to find common ground.
As I stand here at this conference of empathy
I am led by simple curiosities.
What are all the possible ways that you could
be attracted to Basquiat?

Is that Jay-Z pays homage to him or is it that he’s
the highest grossing American artist at an auction?
Do you like the idea of a troubled artist?
High school drop-out who came to make millions -
paint-splattered Armani and mountains of cocaine.
Is it that he's from 1960s Brooklyn,
grew up in a polymath playground and was friends
with Warhol and Madonna?

Did you read an article in The Guardian or look up at a billboard to
see yourself there, in the multilingual, bisexual, diasporic mystery of marginalised beauty?

Or maybe like me, you're 27 so you've spent this year
obsessing over him and other people in the 'club'.
Janis Joplin, Jimi Hendrix, Kurt Cobain, Amy Winehouse.
Hoping that you won't burn out like they did.

Or do you like the child-like aesthetic? A young spectator says

'I don't get it. He doesn't even colour inside the lines.'
Then before he knows it, he's sucked in.

Staring in the eye of the black protagonist he says,
'That's what I feel like when I'm in school' - and it's 2017.

We're here to make comparisons, to ask questions like
What happens when you do yoga and life drawing in the middle of a poetry session?
What does it mean when someone paints that all this wealth is the 'origin of cotton'?

If I handed you a spray can right now, what would you say?

And in the corner a grey-suited man balances an over-sized,
Basquiat-esque emblem on his shoulder
waiting for his Polaroid moment
and he looks fabulous.

Then a beautiful, soft-spoken poet battles over a theatre announcement
followed by a live artist sharing a series of provocative images -
alcohol, pink glasses, Blondie dressed as red riding hood, Basquiat sucking
a lemon, a child has just wriggled free and is running away from his parents
and the audience members from Macbeth stick around to hear a presentation
from Chiizii. A woman wonders between two short films looking for a lip-sync
and now the bass player is beatboxing - things aren't really making sense
but that's the point, isn't it?

Basquiat once said, 'if you don't understand my work then that's your problem.'

And in the background a short film on loop features a drag queen called Dolores.
She says, 'if you're more offended by a tranny than phosphorous on
people in Gaza then you've got problems.' It's all about comparisons and repetition.

You might have thought that you came here to
wiggle your hips to Kid Creole and the Coconuts.
Have a look at some pretty pictures
but you can't come to an event about Basquiat and leave
without some kind of message
because this was an artist who would sell-out an exhibition
in one day then struggle to catch a taxi that same evening.
Even as he mastered the art of dodging the margin, they still
tried to pin him down, name him harlequin but here we are
stood in the Barbican, celebrating him.
Maybe you've been inspired to go home and paint your fridge, paint your
girlfriend’s dress and the rubbish on the street or maybe you lingered on
the last line of Jacob Sam-La Rose’s poem: 'There's always time until there isn't'

or maybe you've learnt that it is possible to turn the words of critics into paint drops

and spray them on the sides of building so they say something like
SAMO©, SAMO© but different.

Too Young For What? took place on Saturday 7 October 2017

Watch our Young Reviewers' review from Too Young For What?

With curation from Poet in the City
Supported by Polaroid Originals
And with thanks to
Binary Graffiti Club, Slashstroke Magazine, Antonio Roberts, Belinda Zhawi, Bellatrix, Chiel Busscher, Chiizii, Dorothea Smartt, Eelyn Lee, Gemma Weekes, Holly Casio, Jacob Sam-La Rose, Jordan Mckenzie, Joshua Idehen, Karim Samuels, Keisha Thompson, Mar Dixon, Maria Middtun, Maripol, Megan Pickering, Paula Varjack, Rachel Long, Tim Lawrence

Aroob Sajjad, Beth Christlow, Clara Sinephro, Cosima CobleyCarr, Demy Joseph, Elaine Awolaja, Hector Dyer, Jodian Bruce, Katie Fiore, Maria Goundry, Max Baraitser Smith, Pheobe Nightingale, Raheela Suleman, Sam Baraitser Smith, SarahAluko, Zahrah Sheikh

Barbican Young Poets: Amina Jama, Kareem Parkins Brown, Kieron Rennie, Victoria Adukwei Bulley

Barbican Young Programmers: Nimmo Ismali, Joel Babbington, Lily van den Broecke, Will Webb

Camilla Greenwell and the Barbican Young Photographers: AngusGrant, Catarina Rodrigues, Faye Song, Foyez Uddin

Barbican Young Reviewers: Alexandra Dewing, Leon Oteng, Lily James

Mountain Way Pictures

About Basquiat: Boom for Real

The first large-scale exhibition in the UK of the work of American artist Jean-Michel Basquiat (1960—1988)

Discover the work of Jean-Michel Basquiat, the pioneering prodigy of the 1980s downtown New York art scene. Engage in the explosive creativity of Basquiat who worked with Andy Warhol, Keith Haring and Blondie, among others. Featuring rare film, photography and archive material, the show captures the spirit of this self-taught artist, poet, DJ and musician whose influence, since his death at 27 in 1988, has been enormous.

Basquiat: Boom for Real is open until 28 January 2018
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