Writing the Future
Basquiat and the Hip-Hop Generation

October 18, 2020–July 25, 2021
Ann and Graham Gund Gallery (Gallery LG31)

The post-graffiti moment in 1980s New York City marked the transition of street art from city walls and subway trains onto canvas and into the art world. Jean-Michel Basquiat (1960–1988) became the galvanizing, iconic frontrunner of this transformational and insurgent movement in contemporary American art, which resulted in an unprecedented fusion of creative energies that defied longstanding racial divisions. This exhibition features his works in painting, sculpture, drawing, video, music, and fashion, alongside works by his contemporaries—and sometimes collaborators—A-One, ERO, Fab 5 Freddy, Futura, Keith Haring, Kool Koor, LA2, Lady Pink, Lee Quiñones, Rammellzee, and Toxic. Throughout the 1980s, these artists fueled new directions in fine art, design, and music, driving the now-global popularity of hip-hop culture.

“Writing the Future: Basquiat and the Hip-Hop Generation” illuminates how this group’s subversive abstractions of both visual and verbal language—including neo-expressionism, freestyle sampling, and wildstyle lettering—rocketed their creative voices onto the main stages of international art and music. It is the first major exhibition to contextualize Basquiat’s work in relation to hip-hop and marks the first time his extensive, robust, and reflective portraiture of his Black and Latinx friends and fellow artists has been given prominence in scholarship on his oeuvre. Notable among those works is the much-revered painting Hollywood Africans, which lionizes Toxic and Rammellzee, the legendary artist/philosopher who is also represented with multiple works in “Writing the Future,” and with whom Basquiat created the prophetic, influential, and talismanic rap song “Beat Bop.”

Learn more about Basquiat, his peers, and New York’s post-graffiti era.

The exhibition is accompanied by an illustrated catalogue produced by MFA Publications and edited by co-curators Liz Munsell, the MFA’s Lorraine and Alan Bressler Curator of Contemporary Art, and Greg Tate, writer, musician, and author of Flyboy in the Buttermilk and Flyboy 2: The Greg Tate Reader.

Basquiat on Film

We’re highlighting three classics from the early hip-hop era as well as a recent documentary on Jean-Michel Basquiat. Watch the trailers and get info on where to stream or rent.

In the News

The New York Times (6/24/21): "How Basquiat and Street Artists Left Their Mark on Hip-Hop Culture"
Culture Type (1/9/21): "The Year in Black Art 2020, Key News, Exhibitions, Awards, and More That Defined Year"
Smithsonian online (12/31/21): "The Top Ten Online Exhibitions of 2020"
Fast Company (12/24/20): "The 6 most immersive online art exhibits to explore over the holidays"
ARTnews (12/22/20): "Jean-Michel Basquiat’s Enduring Fame: Why the ’80s Art Star Remains Relevant Now"
WNYC (12/22/20): "Jean-Michel Basquiat’s 60th Birthday"
The Boston Globe (12/18/20): "10 memorable museum shows from the year everyone wants to forget"
The Art Newspaper (12/4/20): "How Spotify playlists became the new exhibition audio guides"
Brooklyn Street Art (11/23/20): "Writing the Future: Basquiat, Broken Poetics and the NYC Cultural Context"
WCVB (11/19/20): "MFA exhibit features 100+ works by Jean-Michel Basquiat & friends"
Smithsonian Magazine (11/3/2020): "How Jean-Michel Basquiat and His Peers Made Graffiti Mainstream"
The Washington Post (10/27/20): "From Basquiat to ‘Black Panther’: How graffiti went mainstream"
Widewalls (10/18/20): "How Basquiat and Friends Influenced Early Hip-Hop Culture"
The Boston Globe (10/16/20): "How New York’s downtown scene set the stage for Jean-Michel Basquiat"
WBUR (10/16/20): "Basquiat And The Hip-Hop Generation On View At MFA"
The Boston Globe (10/15/20): "MFA’s big Basquiat show testifies to the hip-hop revolution"
WBUR (10/13/20): "What The MFA's Delayed Basquiat Show Tells Us About The Future Of Art Exhibitions"
The Wall Street Journal (10/9/20): "Art From the Streets of New York"
WBUR (10/16/20): "Basquiat And The Hip-Hop Generation On View At MFA"
Art in America (7/24/2020): "Basquiat's Soundtrack"
Vanity Fair (7/21/2020): 21 Best Books of 2020: "The Books Getting Us Through This Wild Year (So Far)"
Move the Mind (6/16/20): "80年代的纽约街头,他们用涂鸦与嘻哈书写未来"
WBUR (6/4/20): "5 Things To Do This Weekend, Including A Collage Workshop And A Haitian Folklore Dance Class"
The New York Times (5/22/20): "With Museums Closed, Coffee-Table Books Bring the Art to You"
The Boston Globe (5/12/20): "At the MFA, four virtual DJs-in-residence will spin tracks inspired by Basquiat"
Boston magazine (4/27/20): "The Coolest Ways to Experience Boston Museums Virtually Right Now"
Thrillist (4/22/20): "The Best Boston Art Experiences You Can Enjoy From Home"
The Boston Globe (4/17/20): "Five free things to do online the week of April 20-26"
The Bay State Banner (4/15/20): "Hip-Hop and Basquiat"
HYPEBEAST (4/13/20): "“Writing the Future: Basquiat and the Hip-Hop Generation” Exhibition Launches Virtually"
WGBH (4/9/20): "Arts This Week: 'Huntington @ Home,' 'Mala' and 'Writing the Future: Basquiat and the Hip-Hop Generation'"
The Boston Globe (4/9/20): "What’s happening (digitally) in the local arts world"
WBUR (4/3/20): "The MFA's Closed, But Its Big Basquiat Show Will Still Open, Just From A Distance"
The Boston Globe (4/3/20): "The MFA brings its Basquiat exhibition to a Late Nites event on Instagram"
Forbes (3/22/20): "Jean-Michel Basquiat Maintains Grip On Art World"
Boston Globe Magazine (3/4/20): "Spring Arts Preview: 40+ arts events around New England you won’t want to miss"
Boston Magazine (2/20/20): "Six Must-See Spring Art Exhibitions in and Around Boston"
Widewalls (12/28/19): "Art Exhibitions to See in the First Half of 2020"
Stupid Dope (12/23/19): "On Blast! MFA Boston’s ‘Writing the Future’ Ties Basquiat to Hip-Hop"
HYPEBEAST (12/20/19): "Museum of Fine Arts, Boston to Showcase '80s Post-Graffiti Work by Jean-Michel Basquiat, Futura & More"

Crown and Signature © Estate of Jean-Michel Basquiat. Licensed by Artestar, New York.