Jean-Michel Basquiat: ‘Now’s the Time’ at the Art Gallery of Ontario

The radical vision of New York artist, musician and fashion-world icon Jean-Michel Basquiat arrives at the Art Gallery of Ontario (AGO) on Feb. 7, 2015, and to celebrate the AGO is offering an unprecedented variety of related programming and events ranging from talks to film screenings and dance parties. Jean-Michel Basquiat: Now’s the Time makes its only North American stop at the AGO and will run through May 10, 2015.

Jean-Michel Basquiat (1960–1988) was one of the most innovative artists of the past century. Drawing, painting and collaging layers of images and text, he translated the world around him into a distinctive visual language that broke new ground in contemporary art. Rich with symbols and cultural references, Basquiat’s works explore potent themes: from personal identity and power to entrenched racism and inequality. Today, Basquiat’s art still reverberates. In all its beauty, complexity and urgency, this work continues to challenge perceptions, provoke vital dialogues and empower us to think critically about our world.

Basquiat was born and raised in Brooklyn, New York. His mother was of Puerto Rican descent, and his father was from Haiti. Growing up in New York played a vital role in Basquiat’s artistic development. His mother took him to museums regularly, and through this early engagement it was evident Basquiat was artistically and intellectually gifted.

While Basquiat’s art historical knowledge provided a foundation for his practice, New York and its social politics informed his content. When Basquiat was a teenager, he and his friend Al Diaz began spray painting on the walls of Lower Manhattan under the pseudonym SAMO©. The socially provocative phrases they wrote near galleries and clubs challenged social norms and caught the attention of the downtown art crowd.

Basquiat soon began painting on paper and canvas, as well as objects he found on the streets of New York. His early success attested to both his artistic ingenuity and his inherent understanding of New York’s cultural climate. His work reached stylistic maturity almost immediately, and in his early twenties, after showing at a number of exhibitions, Basquiat found himself an established and internationally famous artist. He went on to work prolifically, producing thousands of powerful paintings, drawings and prints before his untimely death in 1988 at the age of 27.

On Saturday, Feb. 7, from 6 p.m. to midnight, the AGO will reverberate with the youthful sounds of B-boys and B-girls at the Basquiat Bash, a free opening-night event to celebrate the arrival of Jean-Michel Basquiat: Now’s the Time. Two thousand free tickets were booked by 125 community and youth groups across Toronto, with the remaining 1000 free public tickets won via an online draw. Ticket holders on opening night will hear DJs playing Basquiat-inspired playlists and hear remarks by AGO director and CEO Matthew Teitelbaum and special guests Jeanine Basquiat and Lisane Basquiat, Jean-Michel Basquiat’s sisters. Beginning at 9 p.m., visitors are invited to witness Breaking the Cycle Break Battle, a break-dancing competition presented in partnership with UNITY Charity, showcasing the best break-dancers in the city. Featuring over 30 top Toronto dancers, the two favourites will face off in a showdown in front of visitors and judges to compete for the chance to represent Toronto at the the Notorious IBE championships in the Netherlands this summer.

So you can’t get there tonight?  Check out these other cool events during Basquiat’s time with us in Toronto.


Every weekend, beginning Feb. 14 through May 3, 2015, the AGO will offer in-gallery performances by artist educators and youth members from UNITY Charity, an AGO partner organization that uses hip-hop culture and programming to empower youth. The performances will take place every half hour from 1:30 – 4 p.m. Beat boxing will take place on Saturdays and spoken word performances will take over on Sundays.


Every Wednesday evening beginning Feb. 11, join the AGO’s youth gallery guides for a free pop-up talk in the exhibition at 6:45 p.m. and 7:45 p.m. These discussion-style talks are aimed at youth and will highlight artworks.


GTA youth aged 14 to 30 are invited to submit original artwork on the theme of empowering the black community for the Scratch & Mix Project competition. Basquiat’s desire to address issues of social justice—including racism, materialism and exploitation—is the inspiration behind this unique youth arts competition, a multifaceted youth arts and community engagement project, organized in partnership with the Michaëlle Jean Foundation, the Environics Institute’s Black Experience Project and NIA Centre for the Arts. A jury will select up to 10 finalists, who will be awarded $1,000 and see their work featured at the AGO in an exhibition opening on April 18, 2015. That same day, the AGO will host a dynamic one-day youth solidarity forum identifying strategies to empower black youth to play a greater role in the community. This project is part of the Michaëlle Jean Foundation’s national 4th Wall: Make the Invisible Visible program, which collaborates with art galleries and museums across Canada to give voice to the invisible experiences of marginalized youth. For more details or to submit a proposal, please visit


Combining music, video and art-making, visitors are invited to spend time in the interactive Basquiat Culture Jam Lounge, located just outside the exhibition. Visitors to the lounge can sit and listen to a curated playlist of Basquiat-inspired music and share their responses to the exhibition by recording their own personal message in the Basquiat video talk-back booth. Videos will be posted to In addition, visitors are encouraged to try their hand at street art by leaving a message on the chalkboard wall and to take photos of themselves with the oversized portrait of Basquiat and share with the hashtag #BasquiatAGO. The lounge is open during regular Gallery hours.


Toronto’s hottest art night out and annual AGO fundraiser Massive Party returns on April 23, 2015. In celebration of the Basquiat exhibition, this year’s theme is Hotbed and artistic director TALWST is out to prove that now is the time to be in Toronto, bringing together for one night only the city’s foremost underground artists and musicians, for a whirlwind of unforgettable performances and installations. A Toronto artist and musician, TAWLST is a member of the Basquiat Community Advisory Committee and will recreate his acclaimed performance.

Art Gallery of Ontario | 317 Dundas St. W | Toronto, ON | CANADA | M5T 1G4 |


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