Jean-Michel Basquiat, Bird On Money, 1981.

Acrylic and oil on canvas, 66 x 90 inches. Rubell Family Collection, Miami.

Jean-Michel Basquiat began his career in the late 1970s as a graffiti artist under the name SAMO, spray-painting the streets of lower Manhattan with messages about society and politics. Even when he shifted his focus away from street art toward more traditional painting, these origins remained apparent. His painting merged figuration and expressionism in thick paint, aggressive brushstrokes, and vibrant color. Basquiat rose to prominence as a young artist in the 1980s, becoming one of the era’s most prominent “art stars,” and his legacy is foundational for artists working today. He quite literally brought the aesthetic and the street into the gallery, and you can see his influence everywhere, from Mark Bradford in this exhibition to the Obama “Hope” artist Shepard Fairey, who also straddles the line between street artist and fine artist.