Joan Fischman, the gallery director who curated the groundbreaking 2011 exhibition “The Boom! Boom!” by Jean-Michel Basquiat, will not return as the show opens in Shanghai on Saturday. The curator will not be replaced as the show’s “design consultant,” said a Guggenheim spokesperson.
A Guggenheim spokeswoman referred all questions to a statement issued on Tuesday night by the exhibition’s directors. It did not mention Fischman. However, it noted that the show’s curator, Pier A. Condotti, “intends to leave the exhibition itself in a new capable hands.”
The statement mentioned by the New York Times on Tuesday also described how Basquiat “scored a limited trial and error after emerging into the New York art scene in the late 1980s.”
The Basquiat show, which will display up to 50 works by the graffiti artist, has been at the center of an uproar over its Chinese identity. After it debuted in New York last year, three Chinese institutions — the Shanghai Art Museum, the Chinese Institute of New York and the Peking University Museum — refused to participate in the show. Shanghai’s Shenzhen Women’s University did not, but published an essay by one of the show’s Chinese scholars that described the show’s cultural claims as “tragic,” in part because it “only talks about a moment” in Basquiat’s life.
Despite the protest, the Guggenheim announced it would show some of the most famous works by Basquiat and then move the show to New York before opening it in a Chinese context in Beijing. The $20 million exhibition is the third stop on a tour that will conclude in Tokyo next year.
Also missing from this edition of the show will be Basquiat’s first New York museum retrospective, which ran from 2014 to 2016 at the Brooklyn Museum.
Earlier this year, as the Guggenheim was starting out on the Asia tour, the museum came under criticism for the show’s investment in Basquiat — about $4 million, compared with less than $100,000 for West Egg’s sculpture gallery, where the pieces were produced. Under the show’s revised design, Basquiat, who died of a drug overdose in 1988, had more than 400 potted plants surrounding him in a 10,000-square-foot lot.
The show’s subsequent tour caused an unexpected burst of controversy. In one case, Shanghai’s government overrode a planning commission’s denial of a permit for a protest at the opening, which had been previously banned. And this summer, when a designer for the show created silk shirts with unconventional symbols like a fist or eyeball, the company that manufactured the shirts closed down — a disruption that was chalked up to “political pressure.”
According to the Guggenheim, Condotti “has always maintained that he sees Basquiat’s works in service of a specific understanding of contemporary Chinese identity,” including cultural inclusion and questioning of social practices, including the establishment of “art-for-hire.”
“He is very passionate about bringing Basquiat’s art to the widest audience possible,” the Guggenheim statement said.
The Guggenheim spokeswoman said that Condotti’s successor as “design consultant” has yet to be chosen.