Artists pay tribute to grafittist Jean-Michel Basquiat at Harlem museum exhibit

Thirty-five artists, inspired by Artist Jean-Michel Basquiat, pictured in 1985, will be featured at the "Manifest: a Conjuration of Radiance," exhibit Museum of African American Cinema

Jean-Michel Basquiat is about to have a six-month run uptown.

The late, Brooklyn-born artist who made graffiti an internationally recognized art form, is the subject and inspiration for a series of exhibits at the Museum of African American Cinema, located on the ninth floor of the State Office Building on 125th St.

The brainchild of MoAAC curator Greg Mills, the show, "Manifest: a Conjuration of Radiance," kicks off on Aug. 12 with works by more than 35 artists, who created pieces influenced but not duplicating Basquiat's work.

"We asked them not to copy his work," Mills said. "Take some sensibilities from here, a little color from there or maybe use one of his signature skulls, but don't be a total copycat.

"What is much more important is we asked artists to step out of their comfort zone and do something totally different," Mills said. "Be outlandish!"

Artist Jahheal Massac heeded the call and created "Basquiat Does Basquiat," a life-sized plaster, wire and newspaper replica of the artist, down to his signature hairstyle.

"We were supposed to create a piece out of our comfort zone, and this is out of my zone," said Massac. "Normally, I call myself a social realist artist. I use art to make social commentary. But this is a combination of realism and the abstract."

"Although he had a tragic end, Basquiat created some phenomenal work and he created phenomenal awareness about creativity and black American artists and our struggle to be recognized."

The tribute kicks off Aug. 13 with the show, which will feature a musical soundtrack in the gallery by digital sound artist Carlos B. (C Los) Gutierrez of San Francisco and a screening of the Tamra Davis film, "Jean-Michel Basquiat: The Radiant Child."

Mills said Basquiat, who had a meteoric rise in the art world before dying of a drug overdose in 1988 when he was 27 years old, needed a larger tribute than most.

"Normally we do one exhibit every 60 days," Mills said. "This exhibit will go from August to January and will have five openings."

The opening will coincide with the annual Harlem Week celebrations, he said. In October, the gallery will open "The Basquiat Remix," where artists will show tribute pieces to Basquiat that were not in the first show.

November will feature Basquiat-themed "wearable art" created by Fashion Institute of Technology students. In December, School of Visual Arts alumni, who count Basquiat among their number, will do a tribute show of their creations.

Finally, in January, Mills will curate a show of his favorites from the early collections.

All of the pieces are for sale, Mills said and, unlike most galleries, MoAAC does not get a share of the sale price.

Assemblyman Bill Perkins, who is sponsoring legislation to fund MoAAC so it can move to larger quarters in Harlem, said it's an important gallery "because it provides the community ready access to high quality, accessible art that reflects the artist in the community, some of them unsung artists doing extraordinary work."

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