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The term “parasocial” comes from the combination of “para-” (one-sided) and “social.” Usually, a fan’s intimacy with a public figure, like artist Jean-Michel Basquiat, is constructed by the media rather than personal understanding. No genuine connection exists between fans and their idols, but rather an illusion of one.

While most people reject these unreciprocated relationships, Jean-Michel Basquait’s sisters encourage quite the opposite in their new-to-L.A. exhibitionJean-Michel Basquait: King Pleasure©.” Lisane Basquiat and Jeanine Herieaux turn parasocial relationships on their head by allowing art enthusiasts to get to know the man behind the legend through the lens of those who actually knew him — his family.

First opening in New York back in April 2023, Basquiat’s estate presented a series of over 200 paintings, drawings, ephemera, and artifacts to the public. Jean-Michel Basquiat was a groundbreaking American artist of Haitian and Puerto Rican descent, renowned for his visceral neo-expressionist works that combined graffiti, symbolism, and social commentary to boldly confront issues of race, class, and historical narrative in the 1980s art scene. Basquiat’s inspiring artwork has become some of the most highly valued in the world. But his siblings emphasized to The Los Angeles Times that the exhibit’s goal is to “show from their point of view who their brother really was,” and to them, “he was just Jean-Michel.”

Person viewing Basquiat mapBasquiat’s L.A. Connection

(Image via Giovanni Reda @giovannireda)

Basquiat had a significant historical connection with Los Angeles. He resided in the city for approximately a year and a half, from 1982 to 1984. Initially, he lived with the art dealer Larry Gagosian at his house on Market Street in Venice. Later on, Basquiat rented a studio in nearby Venice Beach. Throughout the 1980s, Basquiat made multiple return visits to Los Angeles, often using the city as a pitstop during his travels to and from Hawaii, where he enjoyed vacationing. His stay in Los Angeles was characterized by immense dedication and a surge of creativity, resulting in the completion of approximately 100 paintings.

“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.” (LAist).

L.A.’s Frank Gehry-designed Grand LA Gallery is the perfect site for “King Pleasure©” because Basquiat produced a considerable portion of his portfolio in California. Within the exhibition, Basquiat’s sisters describe his work as hugely dependent on his surrounding environment. For instance, he spent “roughly eight months” living everywhere from Puerto Rico to Hawaii and Los Angeles, Heriveaux explained. “That is when he painted the works’ Hollywood Africans.’ He painted those works to symbolize their visit here in L.A.” (The Hollywood Reporter). 

Inspiration struck Jean-Michel randomly, like any other artist, but his true muse was travel. Various notebooks and souvenirs from his trips enrich his commentaries on colonialism and the Black experience, which are recurring themes throughout his portfolio. “Jean-Michel always had these different viewpoints of things that were very localized but then also had the ability to take a step back and look at them from more of a global perspective,” Lisane told The Hollywood Reporter. 

Basquiat’s art revolves around African and African-American identity, social injustice, and cultural commentary, blending graffiti-style aesthetics with art historical references to challenge societal norms and address issues of race, inequality, and the human condition. His work reflects a raw and introspective exploration of personal experiences, mortality, and the complexities of fame and celebrity culture.

King Pleasure ExhibitThe Exhibition 

(Image via Giovanni Reda @giovannireda)

The exhibition includes rarely-seen pieces that capture the inner workings of his creativity. Because most of the collection is brand new to the public, Heriveaux stated that they “felt it was important to share what it is that we have” in an organized manner by dividing the exhibit into different themes, with each gallery room playing out a particular time of his life. Lisane shared, “I think, for us, it was more about figuring out what the chapters of his life were. And then taking those chapters and finding the works that we felt fit into those different chapters.” For instance, Basquiat “really respected and honored Black athletes, musicians, and actors…” so they constructed the “Royalty” room, featuring paintings that honor revered artists from  Grace Jones to Miles Davis.

In turn, “King Pleasure©” became a large-scale history project orchestrated by firsthand witnesses to his life. No one else could pull it off except for his family. The non-linear presentation of his life via themed rooms invites everyone to appreciate his art through a highly personal lens. “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” (LAist). From family photographs projected across a recreation of their childhood living room to the “Royalty” room, among others, this exhibition is a must-see event!

King Pleasure ExhibitShop the “King Pleasure©” Emporium

(Image via Giovanni Reda @giovannireda)

Because the Basquiat estate coordinated “King Pleasure©“, they also got complete creative control over all exclusive merchandise for sale in the physical emporium and the online store. Not only are visitors enticed with the opportunity to own merchandise featuring Basquiat’s art, but even fans who cannot attend the exhibition can still participate in the once-in-a-lifetime event via the online store.  

The King Pleasure© Emporium gives everyone a chance to bring home something from the exhibition. No tickets are required to shop the Emporium, which includes hundreds of exclusive items that commemorate the artist and this exceptional exhibition. From the hardcover Exhibition Catalog (which details the artwork in the exhibition into a beautifully produced 336-page book) to the lovingly designed Coach x Basquiat Collection, a brief glimpse at the merchandise reassures us that each piece honors Jean-Michel’s memory.

For the Coach purse collaboration, specifically, Heriveaux praises the company for their tasteful translation of her brother’s work into a high-end accessory: “Coach has done such great work capturing the spirit and energy of Jean-Michel’s work, and in bringing together the perfect group of artists to give this collection life.” Similarly, Coach Creative Director Stuart Vevers describes Jean-Michel Basquiat as a hero. “He embodied the creative, inclusive spirit of New York and was a force of change in his community,” Vevers writes in the product description of the collaboration. “I’m proud to celebrate his work and values and to share them with a new generation.” 

Person admiring Basquiat artworkVisit While You Still Can!

(Image via Giovanni Reda @giovannireda)

“King Pleasure©” is a first-of-its-kind limited engagement that breaks down the confines of parasocial admiration and allows viewers to enter Basquiat’s world like never before. It’s as much about his soul as his art, which his sisters worked tirelessly to capture for each guest. Be sure to explore all this groundbreaking exhibition has to offer through the website and online store.

Tickets start from $28 for adults, $15 for kids ages 3-13, and $65 for avid fans who favor a  VIP experience. The gallery has extended the exhibition through October 15th. Popular time slots sell out fast, so be sure to purchase your tickets in advance.

(Featured image via Giovanni Reda @giovannireda)

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