Basquiat’s story has grown so increasingly well-known—the prodigy hoisted onto the art world stage, the lingering personal troubles, the friendship and collaboration with Warhol, the early demise—that it’s easy to forget how bold his work was when it appeared at the turn of the 1980s. Blatantly defiant of the status quo, Basquiat’s early graffiti took on racism, colonialism, and elitism with wit, always pseudonymously signed “SAMO” (short for “same old shit”).
Robert Mapplethorpe found inspiration from the same apocalyptic New York that Basquiat inhabited, but he channeled the era through photography—typically portraits of his friends in the downtown scene. This enclave of outsiders, including lover Patti Smith, had an incestuous influence that created an explosion of lasting art in all mediums. In a time of Punk and nihilism, Mapplethorpe made the low-down beautiful, with a unique, classical eye merging old and new.
A few short years ago, Shepard Fairey was perhaps the most famous artist in the United States, after then-Senator Barack Obama adopted Fairey’s “Hope” poster for his 2008 campaign. But it was the ubiquitous and reproducible fliers, stickers, and skateboard iconography that Fairey encountered in the 1990s that made his own style so immediately powerful.
4. Keith Haring
A staple of the East Village, Keith Haring chose the New York City subway for his canvas in the ’80s. Round, graphic figures, and messages of love, sex, and destruction quickly moved from illegal spots on unused advertising panels to art galleries and t-shirts. His “Andy Mouse” series serves as a self-aware nod to influence Andy Warhol, but also a premonition of his own inevitable, distinguished place in art history.
5. BanksyBanksy connects the street and the gallery with an unprecedented directness, as opportunists sometimes cut his scathing, spray-painted scenes directly from public walls. Recognized perhaps for his continued anonymity as much as his subversive work, Banksy takes it upon himself to discreetly get his art into advertisements, alleyways, the walls of the Louvre (!), and public consciousness around the world.
“The Fashion World of Jean Paul Gaultier: From the Sidewalk to the Catwalk” is on view at the Brooklyn Museum from October 25th, 2013 through February 23rd, 2014.