Basquiat in Basque

“Believe it or not I can actually draw” Basquiat’s quote on the entrance wall.

The main attraction was the building itself. The Guggenheim, designed by the one and only Frank Ghery, if tele-transportation was possible, we would have seen it the day it opened to the public. After analyzing every angle, every unthinkable curve, every unbelievable wall (all of them proof that “ trying the absurd achieves the impossible” as Miguel De Unamuno said) came dessert: Jean Michel Basquiat.

Right on the entrance, a painting mounted in recycled wood picked from the streets by the artist himself. A car, an accident, a hurt boy laying on the floor. A drawing made with rough brush strokes, seemed done by a preschooler. Nonetheless it strikes me. I listen to a gentleman behind me complain to his wife about bringing him to see “this” I silently laugh.

 A couple of steps later, I find my self wandering about who is the authority that classifies genius from fraud, and who is the authority that decides who is that authority. In general, sole possesors of the truth, make me nervous.

Suddenly, children voices in basque make me turn around and see a group of very well behaved four years old coming in, hand on hand. All of them wearing plaid uniforms and wide open curious eyes, they sit down. Always at their best behavior , the teacher starts explaining in basque the painting in front of them. (During Franco’s era, the basque’s language was forbidden so many of the living on the Spaniard side don’t speak it any more, but a few years ago they included it in schools to revive it)

The teacher talks with great enthusiasm and the kids follow her gestures hypnotized. While looking at the next painting, I pay attention to the voice that has being playing on the back, it is a Martin Luther King’s speech. I notice that in the left corner of this one, there is a crossed out word, that was Basquiat’s way to call attention to it. I find interesting that even though he was so young, he was able to understand so well human condition. I also find interesting how infallible our memory is when it comes to remembering mistakes in other people’s life pages.

Trough the audio guide I am listening to an interview done to Lisane Basquiat, Jean-Michelle sister, talking about recently coming across a old Brooklyn Museum membership card that belonged to his brother when he was five. The Basquiats were a haitian/portorrican family leaving in New York, so they were all fluent in english, spanish and french. Eventough they were not rich, her mother always exposed them to art and literature. It was her who gave little Jean-Michelle “The Anatomy of Gray” to read while recovering from the car accident he suffered when he was eight. A lot of his art was influenced by this book and by Leonardo Da Vinci’s drawings.

The children are now in front of another painting. One of them is screaming: Hortza!! Hortza!!. I write down the word to look it up on a dictionary later. Another one is saying “tuberia” and pointing at the digestive tract drawn on the painting.

I am really amazed at the interest they show in his art. What kind of a genius can tell one’s story with out speaking a word? How does a Brooklyn street artist, gets a kid from Bilbao to show so much enthusiasm? How doesn’t he gets lost in translation? Is there someone who speaks the language of colors? Of relativism? Of mundane? Of pain? Of happiness? Of injustice? Of impermanence? Of dreams? Is Basquiat able to speak in the language of the Basques? In spanish? In forgotten? In anarchist? In offender? In tyrant? In human? Can a millennial from Basque Country understand the graffiti of a 80’s corpse? Is the history of nationalism similar to the history of racism? Is it similar to be an outcast to an alienated? Alienated to renegade? Did Basquiat also speak Euskera?

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I remember about the membership card. Wish that among this children is a future artist.