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ROYAL SLUMMING: JEAN-MICHEL BASQUIAT HERE BELOW

PERHAPS UNDERSTANDABLY GIVEN Jean-Michel Basquiat’s shockingly early and still recent death, the critical literature on his work has been rather uncritical. Emphasizing the anecdotal, the elegiac, and the sacramental, many writers drift from analyses of his art into personal recollections of the artist, and seem at times to vie for the distinction of having known him best. Little art-historical comparison is offered; there is a widespread reluctance to venture outside the sphere of black culture heroes such as Charlie Parker, Joe Louis, and Thelonius Monk, who dominate discussions of his work as if it did not occupy art history in the way of most art. Surely the work of few other important contemporary artists is more consistently talked about in terms from outside the visual arts.

This special treatment of Basquiat, an African-American artist of Haitian and Puerto Rican descent, may in

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