Basquiat’s “Defacement”: The Untold Story

Guggenheim. Jul. 2019. 168p. illus. ISBN 9780892075485. pap. $29.95. FINE ARTS
Jean-Michel Basquiat’s work was certainly never disconnected from the world in which he lived but one work in particular was hyper-connected. Defacement (The Death of Michael Stewart) was in direct response to an event that rocked the New York City art community. In 1983, 25-year-old artist Michael Stewart died from injuries sustained while in police custody after being arrested. This volume, published alongside the Basquiat exhibition Defacement, curated by activist and writer LaBouvier, explores the context in which this work was created. It contains essays from author and critic Greg Tate, the Guggenheims’s artistic director and Jennifer and David Stockman Chief Curator, Nancy Spector, and LaBouvier herself, alongside interviews with contemporaries of both Basquiat and Stewart. This book deals with more than just Basquiat as an artist, exploring racial tensions in the 1980s clear links to the present day.
VERDICT This comprehensive look at one particular Basquiat work also offers an engaging take on a tragic event and the art community’s strong response.
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