COACH releases a Jean-Michel Basquiat collection
Designer brand COACH just released their Jean-Michel Basquiat collection. As a person with caviar tastes on a canned-tuna budget, I won’t be picking up anything. But hey, admiring Basquiat’s iconic street art from a distance doesn’t cost a dime.
As a fan of Basquiat’s work, I’m glad that more people are talking about him. I want to believe that having people know his name and his famous graffiti artwork is better than having him forgotten or be recognized simply as a friend of famous artist Andy Warhol. However, I can’t help being sad that his art is only halfway appreciated.
Don’t get me wrong—Basquiat has a distinct aesthetic and has left an indelible mark on the arts. It’s about time that we recognize not only his talent but his vision.
Basquiat used art as political commentary. Defacement (1983) is one obvious example. The sketch on artist Keith Haring’s wall captures the murder of Black artist Michael Stewart, who died thirteen days after being arrested by New York City Transit Police. Basquiat was no stranger to the prevalence of racism in America, but the news left him repeating: “it could have been me.”
Black American curator Chaédria LaBouvier later highlighted the piece’s significance: “Basquiat was aware that this was not just about Michael Stewart or even him, but that there is a history of state violence against the black body. And I think that’s what this painting represents: that history of state violence against the black body as an American heritage.”
Basquiat’s art also served to highlight the Black body. The artist saw the gross underrepresentation of Black people, both in history and in the present. He made the subjects in many of his pieces Black to shed light on this inequity, but also to celebrate the community’s resilience. This makes it all the more disheartening to see Basquiat collaborations that divorce Basquiat’s art from his message.
The most brazen instance that comes to mind is makeup brand Urban Decay’s 2017 Basquiat collection. Model Ruby Rose, who then was “the face” of the brand, proudly debuted the collection as if it were another launch. However, Basquiat’s art was overtly political; it’s naive to pretend otherwise. This was more than likely an unfortunate slip on the brand’s part, but it further shows the gravity of Basquiat’s advocacy.
COACH seems to have at least learned from similar oversights. Photographer Micaiah Carter told GQ that Basquiat “was a springboard for people to open up conversations that I think people weren’t having as often.” Some of the familiar faces modeling are Michael B. Jordan and Jennifer Lopez. Basquiat’s niece, Jessica Kelly, is also radiating in the campaign.
At the end of the day, I’m glad that more people are aware of Basquiat. His longtime friend and art collaborator Andy Warhol makes his way into pop culture and art education, but Basquiat falls by the wayside. Especially considering the political context that we are in, there’s no better time to champion the king of street art.