Exhibition Books

Writing the Future
Basquiat and the Hip-Hop Generation

Edited by Liz Munsell and Greg Tate, with contributions by J. Faith Almiron, Dakota DeVos, Hua Hsu, and Carlo McCormick
Format Regular Price Member Price
Hardcover $50.00

ISBN 978-0-87846-871-3, 200 pages, 9.375 x 10.75 in., 180 color illustrations

In the early 1980s, art and writing labeled as graffiti transitioned from New York City walls and subway trains onto canvas and into art galleries. Young artists who freely sampled from their largely Black, Latinx, and immigrant histories infused the downtown art scene with expressionist, pop, and graffiti-inspired compositions.

Jean-Michel Basquiat was among the best known of these emerging artists. He and his fellow creators became avant-garde leaders of the post-graffiti art movement, working across media to infiltrate and reshape the predominantly white art world. This book captures the energy, inventiveness, and resistance unleashed when hip-hop went “all city.”

One of Vanity Fair's top 21 books of 2020!

“In these flattened times, Writing the Future conveys motion. The book, a companion to a suspended exhibition at Boston’s Museum of Fine Arts, is about Basquiat, his contemporaries, and early hip-hop culture, but it’s also about the movements and rhythms of New York City—'the work of the subway writers became as optically and optimally omnipresent as the Manhattan skyline,' Greg Tate writes. And in its dynamic blend of art, history, and analysis, it has a movement of its own.”
—Dan Adler, Vanity Fair
“To leaf through this prodigy’s oeuvre intermingled with photos of what he called 'just … you know, my friends and stuff'; of their tags brightening storefronts and subway cars, of the boomboxes and leather jackets and reference books they at once desecrated and elevated, is to hold in your hands the record of a place and a time and a togetherness we can only hope one day to experience again.”
—Lauren Christensen, ​The New York Times Book Review

"Given that many of us won’t get to see the show in the midst of the pandemic... this catalogue serves as a good substitute. You learn that Basquiat’s friend Rammellzee called him a “sponge artist,” for the way he absorbed his many influences, and come to appreciate the New York city subway system—where many of Basquiat’s contemporaries did their best work—as “the biggest gallery for distribution.” The catalogue has killer essays by the show’s co-curators, Greg Tate and Liz Munsell, and also an excellent take on Basquiat’s social conscience by J. Faith Almiron.
—Sarah Douglas, ARTnews

"Accessible and erudite, the catalogue unpacks the social connections, the various emerging music, art, and performance sub-scenes of “Downtown” and “Uptown” New York culture, the opaque underpinnings of the dominant culture, and the urban syntaxes that formed this young Brooklyn artist and his work in the 1970s and 1980s."
—Brooklyn Street Art 

About the Author

J. Faith Almiron is Assistant Professor of Afro-American Studies at the University of Wisconsin, Madison.

Dakota DeVos is a former Curatorial Research Fellow in Contemporary Art at the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston.

Hua Hsu is Associate Professor of English and Director of American Studies at Vassar College and a staff writer for The New Yorker.

Carlo McCormick is a critic, writer, and curator, based in New York.

Liz Munsell is the Lorraine and Alan Bressler Curator of Contemporary Art at the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston.

Greg Tate is a writer, musician, and cultural provocateur, based in New York.