24 March-2 July. The Chiostro del Bramante pays tribute to New York artist Jean-Michel Basquiat, whose colourful and controversial career was cut short in 1988 after a heroin overdose at the age of 27. Comprising around 100 pieces from the Mugrabi Collection, the exhibition examines Basquiat's relationship with his native city as well as exploring the importance of street art and graffiti in his work.
Curated by Gianni Mercurio, the show provides insights into various aspects of Basquiat's oeuvre, charting his meteoric rise to fame, from spray-painting epigrams on the streets of Lower Manhattan in the late 1970s to his recognition by New York's top gallerists and art dealers less than a decade later.
Chiostro del Bramante and its intriguing spaces are filled with an explosion of wildly-contrasting colours, however it is only on closer inspection that the social message behind Basquiat's many-layered works becomes clear.
The mixed-media pieces on display demonstrate the artist's mixture of abstraction and figuration, his marriage of image and text, and how his contextual use of words – from verse to voodoo – are employed effectively to attack repressive power structures, social inequality and racism, evident in works such as Job Analisis and Procession.
Many of the canvases are large-scale and striking: there is a childlike freshness to Untitled (Yellow Tar and Feathers) with its deep yellows and glued-on feathers; Rusting Red Car in Kuau, a punchy red automobile parked against an ultramarine background; and the cartoon-like Glassnose.
In addition to acrylics and oils, the show highlights works such as Untitled (Football Helmet), an American football helmet covered in human hair; and a wonderful pair of wood collages made of painted boxes – Jazz and Black. There is humour too, prefiguring Banksy, in Basquiat's collaborations with Pop Art supremo Andy Warhol: viewers are presented with a seemingly pleasant image of two dogs only to discover that one is urinating, the other defecating.
This exhibition is bold and edgy and shines a bright light on Basquiat's dramatic work; the Chiostro conjures up the subversive atmosphere of Manhattan's once-mean streets, with a silent soundtrack of sirens and subways; it is a fine tribute to the troubled artist almost three decades after his death.