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Revealing Basquiat's Hidden Life: His Sisters Bring Intimate Exhibition To LA

A living room setting with a couch, table, and older television. There is a bookshelf, a mirror, and paintings on the wall, as well as photos, including one of Black rights activist Martin Luther King Jr. A family photo in black and white is projected on the wall, showing a small Black child and another Black person.
Inside a re-creation of Jean-Michel Basquiat's childhood living room.
(Ivane Katamashvili
Courtesy King Pleasure exhibition)
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Before his death in 1988 at just 27 years old, Jean-Michel Basquiat became a sensation, with a style born out of graffiti and the street culture of New York. His work was known for showcasing the Black experience, including class and racial divisions.

A new exhibition in downtown L.A., Jean-Michel Basquiat: King Pleasure, takes an inside look at the man and his work. That’s aided by access to the artist’s personal life — made possible because it’s presented by Basquiat’s estate, run by his sisters Jeanine Heriveaux and Lisane Basquiat.

The show features more than 200 items, ranging from paintings and drawings to multimedia work and other artifacts. It includes some articles that were never seen before the exhibition first opened in New York.

King Pleasure

A faux art studio with paint speckled on the linoleum. A large work laying flat on the ground reads "FREE, QUICK CASH, SHOE BUSINESS, USA." There are many smaller works on the walls and leaning up against a table, as well as art supplies around the space. A television has large stacks of VHS tapes near it. A door lays against the wall behind the TV. A step ladder stands to the right, in front of a railing.
A re-creation of Basquiat's studio.
(Ivane Katamashvili
Courtesy King Pleasure exhibition)
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The show is more than just his art — Lisane Basquiat described it as an immersive experience. The items in this collection take you inside his world, showing you how he lived his life. It includes a re-creation of his New York City art studio and the family’s childhood home.

“Our intention was to give his audience a different perspective of Jean-Michel,” Heriveaux said. “We felt that what was missing from his narrative was his family. A lot of people prior to this didn’t even realize his family exists, that he was close to his family, that he still was in contact with his family.”

A room featuring artistic rounded benches, as well as several long couches, a wall with a grid of TV monitors, and another wall with a string of paintings. They feature red paint and stylized black skulls. The lights above have red filters over them.
The "King Pleasure" version of the Michael Todd VIP room at the Palladium.
(Ivane Katamashvili
Courtesy King Pleasure exhibition)

The show also includes a re-creation of the Michael Todd VIP Room from New York’s Palladium nightclub — Basquiat painted two pieces for the space, "Nu Nile" and "Untitled." His sisters included those paintings in their club setting, giving a taste of the nightlife he loved.

“We started thinking about Jean-Michel and how social he was, and how he partied so much,” Heriveaux said.

That vibe was the inspiration for the exhibition’s title, “King Pleasure.” The piece was named after the jazz singer who popularized “Moody’s Mood For Love.”

Artist Jean-Michel Basquiat in off-white painter's clothes. He looks plainly, no smile, at the camera. Behind him is a large painted piece with a variety of designs, and on the ground is a large tarp speckled with paint.
Jean-Michel Basquiat.
(Brad Branson
Jean-Michel Basquiat in L.A.)

Jeanine’s daughter suggested the title. The sisters liked it as both describing their brother and a nod to their shared memory of listening to that song when they were kids.

“If you equated [Basquiat] to a style of music, it could be jazz, it could be punk, or it could be hip-hop,” Museum Of Contemporary Art curator Bennett Simpson said. “The early days of punk fashion and punk nightlife, and hip-hop nightlife were big influences for him. He drew influences from not just art history — he drew influences from what was going on in the city around him at the time.”

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That lifestyle was also a big part of what made Basquiat a star, according to Simpson.

“Partly, it is the way that he as an artist was made and marketed — died young, had famous friends, rich people bought his work,” Simpson said. “He was cool as hell. He knew, understood style and fashion better than almost anybody. He knew the scene in New York and knew how to play it.”

Simpson added that, in art, becoming well-known is almost never because of the art itself.

“It is often because of the way culture is put together and packaged, and talked about,” Simpson said. “Basquiat just had his finger on the pulse in the early and mid-'80s.”

Basquiat in Los Angeles

Boards from a fence hang on two walls, showing white paint, a long black face that appears of African origin, and a painting of a donkey in black with the word "ASS" above it.
Boards from the fence that Basquiat painted when he was in Los Angeles.
(Ivane Katamashvili
Courtesy King Pleasure exhibition )

Basquiat was a New York City artist, but he also spent time working out of a Venice Beach studio.

“He had a few shows while he was here. He hung out and went to clubs,” Lisane Basquiat said. “He had a life here that was — I don’t want to say a refuge from the Northeast, but it was a place for him to come to get out of maybe the intensity of the hustle and bustle of New York in a different way.”

Two of the pieces on display were created when he painted on the fence behind that studio — you can see the actual boards hanging in the show.

“He was a person who could see anything as art,” Lisane Basquiat said. “The story behind it was that, in the studio that he was at in Venice, he came out and he was startled because there were folks who were within the fence and he wanted an unobstructed view of that pathway. So he asked that they would take the fence down. And instead of throwing it away, he painted on it — he turned it into a piece of art.”

Basquiat would also use L.A. as a landing spot on longer trips, spending time here on his way to Maui and back, according to Lisane. It was important for him and an important part of his story, she said.

“There’s very little documentation that he did live here. We felt it was important to add that as well,” Heriveaux said.

Outside of the exhibition, you can find his work in major L.A. art gallery collections, including at the Broad and MOCA. Broad founders Eli and Edythe Broad collected Basquiat paintings during his lifetime and connected with him in L.A.

“Basquiat was one of those artists that really caught their eye,” The Broad curator Sarah Loyer said. “The Broads never shied away from work that took on social and political issues of the time.”


Two Black woman hug each other. The woman on the right is in maroon, while the woman on the left is in olive green. They look toward the camera as they hug. The woman on the right wears a large bracelet with a large orange stone in it.
Jeanine Heriveaux and Lisane Basquiat.
(Miranda Penn Turin
Courtesy King Pleasure exhibition )

You can hear both the affection and the sense of loss when Lisane and Jeanine speak about their brother.

"He was an amazing brother," Lisane Basquiat said. "He was protective, he was fun as heck.”

They prefer to have him referred to as “Jean-Michel” or their brother, rather than the more popular use of just his last name.

While siblings fight, of course, Lisane Basquiat said she appreciated the relationship that they had. “We had the ability to talk about anything.”

Thinking about the place her brother holds in their lives, Heriveaux said it can be bittersweet. “I think about him almost on a daily basis — what could have been in these last 30 years.”

Several of Basquiat's works hang on the walls. One shows a large ape-like figure on a yellow background. Another is in Black and uses terms from minstrel shows including "Kingfish." Along one wall is written text asking to send a telegram for $2,600. A bicycle is parked in front of the wall.
Inside the "King Pleasure" exhibition.
(Ivane Katamashvili
Courtesy King Pleasure exhibition )

“I’m so happy that he was able to express himself so profoundly as he did during the time that he lived,” Lisane said.

Heriveaux hopes audiences will leave the exhibition feeling inspired — and with the desire to see more art, particularly from other artists of color.

“I’d like them to see the lesson, the breadcrumbs in his life,” Lisane Basquiat said. “Things like, if you want something, and if there’s something that you really want to achieve, go for it. … He tried whatever he wanted to try — whether it was film, whether it was acting, whether it was producing a record — he tried everything.”

They both saw visitors react emotionally to the exhibition, including a parent Heriveaux met there.

“What she said was, ‘You really helped me to understand a battle that I have been having with my own child. Because this child is a creative person and they want to be creative, and I’ve been on my own path for that person’s life,’” she said. “I think that there’s a lot that people can get and have gotten from this exhibition, and I’d love to share that with the L.A. community.”

Jean-Michel Basquiat: King Pleasure is open now at the Grand L.A. downtown. The Broad also has an upcoming exhibition featuring the work of Basquiat’s close friend and contemporary Keith Haring, opening at the end of May.

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Corrected April 10, 2023 at 3:29 PM PDT
The "King Pleasure" painting itself is not included in the exhibition. LAist regrets the error.
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