Critics’ Picks

Jean Dubuffet, Mêle Moments, 1976.

New York

“Dubuffet/Basquiat: Personal Histories”

Pace | 32 East 57th Street
32 East 57th Street Second Floor
April 28–June 17

Although at first “Dubuffet/Basquiat: Personal Histories” seems an academic exercise in thematic comparison (we see a Dubuffet car echoed in Basquiat’s Old Cars, 1981, for example), the juxtaposition of the artists’ rich pictorial vocabularies amplifies their distinct visions, proving the value of reexamining their work. Formally, their shared motifs include a blocked-out composition (despite their seeming disorder); ambiguous, cartoonish figures; and an unconventional, often garish, palette. The show pairs Dubuffet’s late “Théâtres de Mémoires” paintings with a range of Basquait’s work from 1981–83, that is full of political references and Pop art exclamations. Thus, Dubuffet’s strong Mêle Moments, 1976—a particularly busy overlay of paper and painting with patches suggestive of abstraction—lacks the historical resonance of Basquiat’s Untitled (Black Tar and Feathers), 1982—a two-panel piece, the bottom literally tarred and feathered, the top, somber stick figures. Labeling Dubuffet as a European primitivist and Basquiat as his wry, self-conscious successor elides Dubuffet’s formal innovation and Basquiat’s political urgency. Although the exhibition suggests some of these art-historical categorizations, ultimately the paintings refuse them.