“a genealogy of ideas…”
This year, artist Jean-Michel Basquiat would have turned 50 years old. And in half-century celebration, there are events all over the world: In Paris, you can see more than 100 of his works at the Museum of Modern Art through January 2011, as well as a special exhibition at Galerie Pascal Lansberg. In other cities, you can catch Tamra Davis’ new documentary, The Radiant Child, centered on an interview the director shot with Basquiat 20 years ago. And in New York, a Basquiat exhibition was on display for much of the fall at the Robert Miller Gallery, in Chelsea.
But in Los Angeles, there resides a much more personal collection. At LeadApron, a gallery on Melrose Place, gallerist Jonathan Brown has an unusual collection of ephemera: 112 pieces belonging to Basquiat, including self-portraits and even the signature bow tie he wore in his hair, all from the last year of his life.
Brown acquired this collection about five years ago from an old friend, Kelle Inman, Basquiat’s last girlfriend. “Kelle had a real mothering instinct; she wanted to care for you,” Brown says. “I think that may have been some of her connection to Jean-Michel, because she spent the last year of his life with him. She nursed him, cared for him, and tried to help him get off drugs.”
Inman and Basquiat met when she was working as a waitress at Nell’s; two days later, she was living with him. “She didn’t really know who he was,” says The Radiant Child director Tamra Davis, who knew Inman during the relationship.
“My sense is she wasn’t starstruck, per se—more than he was someone in need,” adds Brown, of their relationship. All of the objects in the collection, given to her by Basquiat, belonged to Ms. Inman (who passed away in July). “Some of it has his handwriting on it; and some of it doesn’t, so it was difficult to authenticate outside of Kelle’s word—though everybody knew she was with him. There were pictures of them together; notes written to her, so there was no reason for her to manufacture anything,” he says.
“It’s as if you’re working with a penumbra of an idea of someone’s life—this is just filling it in,” Brown says. “There are photos he took in New Orleans that he used as references for his artwork. He wrote on them, ‘4×5, one reg’—meaning he meant to blow them up and use them as source material. These are Basquiat’s curatorial picks—his edited life.… This is a trail—a genealogy of ideas.”