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The most conspicuous painting in Jean-Michel Basquiat’s 1988 exhibition at Vrej Baghoomian Gallery was “Riding with Death,” a stark depiction of an emaciated figure with a featureless black face, seated atop a few white bones loosely arranged like a horse. At the exhibition’s opening, the dark forebodings of “Riding with Death” were echoed in the artist’s own tired appearance, with a pockmarked face and missing teeth. The Baghoomian show would be Basquiat’s last during his lifetime. He died of a heroin overdose several months later, aged 27.
The exhibition’s oversized, black and silver announcement is a striking reminder of this too-early death. The photo, taken in Paris by Jérôme Schlomoff, shows Basquiat clutching his well-worn copy of Jack Kerouac’s The Subterraneans—a novel about an interracial relationship and bohemian friendships, written in a stream-of-consciousness style like the one Basquiat used for his work in other media. Like Basquiat, Kerouac had been the victim of an early death hastened by drug abuse.
Basquiat’s final exhibition is one of Gallery 98’s 40 Top Art Events of the Downtown Era, 1974–1992: a new online exhibition gathering announcements and posters produced during this two-decade span.