Jordana Moore Saggese’s Reading Basquiat: Exploring Ambivalence in American Art is a monographic study of Jean-Michel Basquiat, an artist who experienced a near meteoric rise and fall. In four chapters, the author gives the artist’s work the scholarly and historical attention it rightly deserves while contributing to the fields of American art, African American art, contemporary art, and diaspora art. The introduction sets the stage for contemporary readers to grasp the art world of the 1980s at the same time that it identifies Basquiat’s multiple positionalities as a middle-class, diasporic subject born and raised in New York City. The second chapter compares Basquiat’s work to modern Euro-American masters such as Picasso, Pollock, and Twombly and considers how, through subject matter, the artist’s cultural identifications are manifested. The third chapter dispels the oft-written assertion that Basquiat’s work owes a debt to hip-hop. Instead, Saggese considers the artist’s attention to and affection for improvisational jazz and the ways it impacted his practice. In the final chapter, the author takes up Basquiat’s engagement with Beat poets and the cultures they created.

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