3Novices:Jean-Michel Basquiat’s art reconstituted the world around him, says Boom for Real curator

The curator of a new Barbican exhibition on the late American artist Jean-Michel Basquiat has selected five key works for Dezeen that show how his work drew on a vast range of design influences – from comic books to sweet wrappers, and jazz to illustrations from Gray’s Anatomy.

The exhibition titled Basquiat: Boom for Real brings together more than 100 artworks by the New York graffiti-artist-turned-painter, and is the first large-scale exhibition of his work in the UK.

Works included range from Basquiat’s early graffiti work in the late 1970s under the pseudonym SAMO© – an abbreviation of “same old, same old shit” – to his collaborations with with high-profile artists like Andy Warhol and Keith Haring.

Speaking to Dezeen, assistant curator Lotte Johnson said that you can find direct connections between Basquiat’s early work and everyday product designs, such as sweet wrappers and train tickets.

Basquiat: Boom for the real exhibition at the Barbican in London.

“He was constantly absorbing influences and references from the world around him,” she told Dezeen.

“Some of his earliest works are these amazing collages he made with artist Jennifer Stein that take materials from around the studio and off the street, and paste them onto pieces of paper and photocopy them.”

In these collages, Basquiat and Stein would take PEZ sweet wrappers, cut out the letters and rearrange them.

“They were taking graphic design – the kind of symbols and signs they saw in the world around them – and reconstituting them,” said Johnson.

Later work would include intricate allusions to iconography found in Egyptian mythology and African rock art, as well as direct references to pictorial texts such as Black Beauty, White Heat: A Pictorial History of Classic Jazz 1920-1950 and Gray’s Anatomy.

Basquiat: Boom for the real exhibition at the Barbican in London.

“He was literally lifting elements from books and translating elements into his works,” Johnson explained.

“For example, we know that Basquiat was fascinated by anatomy, he drew anatomical studies from many of his paintings and drawings – the book by Leonardo da Vinci and Gray’s Anatomy.”

Despite his relatively short career – Basquiat was just 27 when he died in 1988 – Johnson said Basquiat had “a huge impact on contemporary practitioners”.

“It is in his incredible speed of execution that the graphic representation of his work plays out,” she added. “His use of symbols and signs in this incredibly dense network – this amazing clarity has had a great influence on designers.”

Basquiat: Boom for Real is on show at London’s Barbican until 28 January 2018.

Exhibition photography is by Tristan Fewings/Getty Images.

Below, Johnson writes about five key projects featured in the exhibition:

Basquiat: Boom for the real exhibition at the Barbican in London.

Untitled, 1981
Mugrabi Collection

In 1981, Basquiat was included in the exhibition New York/New Wave at PS1 in New York – a show that featured over 100 artists, musicians and writers. Basquiat was the only artist in this exhibition to be given a prominent platform to show painting. One of the pieces he included was Untitled, made when he was just 20 years old.

The work is dominated by three striking heads, their simplified delineated outlines reminiscent of the heads that had appeared in his SAMO© tags, which he spray-painted around the streets of New York.

Variations on the name Aaron are also scrawled several times on the painting. Basquiat occasionally used Aaron as a pseudonym, which is likely a reference to Hank Aaron, the celebrated baseball player, as well as Moses’ brother Aaron, who helped free the Israelites from Egypt.

The scattered letters A and O, which also persistently appear in many of Basquiat’s works, could provide a further biblical reference to “Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the end”.

Basquiat: Boom for Real exhibition at the Barbican in London.

Beat Bop record cover, Tartown Records, 1983

Basquiat designed the front and back cover for Beat Bop, a hip-hop single by American rappers Rammellzee and K-Rob and produced by Basquiat himself. Released on one-time label Tartown Records, it has an abstract sound. The syncopation of the record is reflected in Basquiat’s design for the cover, which is characteristic of his drawings from the period.

There are cartoon references – the phrase “bang” with lines and circles coming out of it – that really connect to cartoons and slapstick comedy, like Pop Eye and Crazy Cat.

The crown motif visible here has become iconic for Basquiat’s practice. One reference that we often bring to light is that in jazz tradition, jazz legends would be given monarchical titles. There is also a legacy in graffiti, where graffiti artists would crown each other’s work to ascribe status.

Basquiat would often use the crown in the context of the history of African American people in history and contemporary society too. It would then be associated with great black figures he admired, to place them back in a canon and to give them status.

Basquiat: Boom for the real exhibition at the Barbican in London.

King Zulu, 1986
MACBA Collection, Government of Catalonia long-term loan, formerly Salvador Riera Collection

Music in particular had a great influence on Basquiat’s practice. He listened to everything, from Donna Summer to Bach, though his paintings are mostly dominated by the history of black jazz musicians.

He had a collection of over 3,000 records and he would rarely work without something playing in his studio. Several books on the subject of jazz became frequent reference points. The fragments in this work, King Zulu, were sourced from the 1982 book Black Beauty, White Heat by Frank Driggs and Harris Lewine.

The title of the painting – inscribed beneath the grinning mask – relates to Louis Armstrong, who was crowned King Zulu at the Mardi Gras parade in 1949. While Armstrong deemed it a great honour, Basquiat treats the exaggerated blackface costume with a certain ambivalence.

Jesse, 1983
Courtesy of John McEnroe Gallery

This remarkable work is a direct homage to Jesse Owens, the celebrated black athlete who won four gold medals in the 1936 Olympics in Berlin. His physical strength is gestured to in the many collaged anatomical drawings pasted onto the canvas.

This iteration of the Olympics was used by Hitler to promote his ideas of racial supremacy, referenced in the Nazi swastikas that appear next to Jesse Owens’ name in the painting.

Owens defied Hitler’s attempted propaganda however by setting extraordinary world records, and his incredible talent is echoed in the multiple references to Superman that appear across the canvas. These include the words “Action Comics” – the comic book series that introduced the superhero. 

Basquiat: Boom for the real exhibition at the Barbican in London.

Ishtar, 1983
Collection Ludwig, Ludwig Forum für Internationale Kunst, Aachen

Basquiat named this monumental triptych after Ishtar, the Egyptian goddess of fertility and war. He was fascinated by mythology, as evidenced by the repeated name of the goddess written on the painting.

Underneath the vivid painted sections of the work, it is evident that the background of the work is pasted with photocopied drawings, a technique that Basquiat was using in many of his paintings at this time.

In the upper left corner, a small drawing of a pig is visible, with a list that appears to have been copied from Harold Bayley’s 1912 book The Lost Language of Symbolism, which we know Basquiat owned. This is just one example of how Basquiat’s works were so rich in their source materials and in their encyclopaedic range of reference points.

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3Novices:Nendo designs transportable toilet for natural disaster victims

Nendo has designed a temporary toilet for those affected by natural disasters, which can be assembled using found materials and completely dismantled for easy transportation.

Nendo began the Minimilet project in the wake of large-scale natural disasters in Japan, such as the Tōhoku and Kumamoto earthquakes in 2011 and 2016 respectively.

Both earthquakes caused huge tsunamis that caused hundreds of thousands of inhabitants to be forced out of their homes and into temporary shelters.

“A major problem for people living in the evacuation shelters was not only that the transport network was paralysed, food was in short supply and electricity, gas and water supply infrastructures were disrupted, but also that there was a lack of toilets,” said the Japanese studio.

Recognising the issues with existing portable lavatories, Nendo wanted to create a solution that offered more stability and privacy.

It also needed to be totally collapsible, so that it can be taken apart and moved if need be.

Each of the six components – four aluminium pipes, a c-shaped seat, a privacy tent, tissues, garbage bags and a coagulant liquid – are designed to fit inside a slim bag.

The bag also doubles up as a water carrier and can hold up to 16 litres of water – the amount needed to flush a toilet twice.

The toilet can also be assembled using found materials, such as aluminium cans and water bottles.

“The various elements were made multipurpose in order to utilise them to their full extent,” said Nendo. “The aluminium pipes can be used both as supporting poles for the tent or as legs to support the toilet seat, and the nylon fabric for the tent can also be used as a poncho.”

“When living in evacuation shelters in contemporary urban spaces, various everyday items and waste materials are also available to use, unlike when living in deserts or mountainous areas, where there is nothing,” the studio continued.

The Minimilet toilet follows on from Nendo’s Minim+Aid kit, which the studio – led by Oki Sato – also designed for earthquake victims.

The kit, launched in 2015, contains a whistle, radio, raincoat, lantern, water container and multipurpose case in a slender tube.

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3Novices:Designart festival aims to “put Tokyo on the map” as a destination for design, say founders

A new design festival aiming to revitalise Tokyo’s creative scene launched last week, as doubts emerged over the future of rival event Tokyo Designers Week.

The inaugural Designart festival featured 72 exhibitions and talks across the city and was organised by architects and designers from Tokyo studios including Miru Design and Klein Dytham Architecture.

The event fills the void left by Tokyo Designers Week, which was cancelled this year following a tragic fire last November and which may not now return.

Co-organisers Astrid Klein and Mark Dytham of Klein Dytham Architecture said Designart was set up to address the lack of  design festivities in the Japanese capital.

With Designart, they hope to “put Tokyo on the map” as a destination for the industry.

“Where’s the Tokyo design museum? Where’s the Tokyo manga museum?” posed Dytham, who also has his sights set on creating a design museum for the city.

“The Japanese government is really not very good at supporting design. They aways push it over to the private sector,” Dytham added.

Kicking off just after this year’s Tokyo Fashion Week and just before Tokyo Motor Show, Designart aims to take advantage of visitors to these already established events.

The exhibitions and events in the programme are largely clustered on Aoyama-dori and Omesando, a crossroads forming the axis to an upmarket shopping and design district, and home to fashion houses and car showrooms.

Tokyo’s Fred Perry store hosted a display of furniture by Japanese designer Hisakazu Shimizu. Photograph is by Nacása & Partners.

The set up opposes that of Tokyo Designers Week, which had seen exhibits corralled into an events’ tent in Meiji Jingu Gaien, an open area dedicated to sports facilities that will host the Kengo Kuma-designed olympic stadium.

Its high entry and exhibiting costs had made it unrepresentative of Tokyo’s design scene, said Klein and Dytham.

“There’s only a certain type of of person who can afford that,” Dytham told Dezeen.

Astrid Klein said Tokyo Designers Week had become too corporate and inward-focused in recent years.

“It didn’t match our expectations,” she said.

Tokyo Design Week is unlikely to be reinstated following a tragic accident

This year’s Tokyo Designers Week was cancelled following the death of a five-year-old boy when an exhibit caught fire last year.

Dytham, who also sits on the board for Tokyo Designers Week, said the event’s cancellation was an “atonement” for the accident, and there were no signs it would resume.

Miru Design founder Akio Aoki came up with the idea for Designart festival eight years ago, as a way to support the creative industries following the financial crisis of 2008.

With the Japanese government “gradually” increasing its support for the arts sector in the run up to the Tokyo 2020 Olympics, at the end of 2016 Akio said he thought it was time to make the design week a reality.

He enlisted an interdisciplinary team to help set it up – comprising Klein and Dytham alongside artist Shun Kawakami of Artless, designer Hiroshi Koike of Non-Grid and Img SRC, and artist Okisato Nagata of EXS.

Designart aims to encourage designers to launch products in Japan instead of overseas

The group hope the event will also become a platform for designers to launch new projects in Tokyo rather than at Milan or New York design week, which Dytham said is taken by designers as a sign that “you’ve made it”.

Swedish trio Claesson Koivisto Rune brought the launch of their Faciem project – a series of prints of building facades – forward from Stockholm Design Week to present it for the first time at the inaugural Designart, and Klein Dytham Architecture launched its own modular furniture series at the event.

Also among exhibitors are established Tokyo-based studios Torafu Architects and Schemata Architects, as well as lesser-known artists and designers.

While some exhibits take advantage of design store showrooms, many occupy fashion shop fronts and foyers along Aoyama-dori and Omesando, with the Louis Vuitton store displaying pieces from its Objet Nomades collection and French designer Pierre Charpin setting up his work in the lobby of the Japanese fashion house World.

The aim is to build a symbiotic relationship between the design week and fashion retailers, helping to get customers across the threshold, as well as offering affordable space for designers and artists to exhibit.

French designer Pierre Charpin hosted his first solo show in Japan in the lobby of the Japanese fashion house World. Photograph is by Jessica Mairs

This crossover between different strains of design and art led to the name Designart. Akio said he hopes the term will take root and have the creative industries recognised collectively by the Japanese government, rather than as separate economic forces.

There was no government funding for Designart, with the co-founders instead stumping up the running costs for this year’s event.

But Akio has aspirations for future editions of the annual event. He said the British government’s support of London’s design scene in the run up to the London 2012 Olympics seemed likely to be a model for the Japanese government as the games approached.

“We always learn from London,” he told Dezeen.

The event also aims to replicate the social atmosphere of Milan design week, with after parties dedicated to the crossover between design, fashion and technology held at “the Bar Basso of Tokyo” – the SuperDeluxe nightclub and events space run by Klein and Dytham.

The architects have also made their PechaKucha night part of Designart, an event that sees participants make quick-fire presentations, and which was previously hosted by Tokyo Design Week.

The inaugural Designart took place 16-22 October 2017, with dates for 2018’s event due to be finalised soon.

The portrait of Designart’s founders is by Dai Takeuchi.

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3Novices:Cover designs backyard studio in LA using computer algorithms

Design-build firm Cover, which uses computer algorithms to create customised backyard dwellings for homes, has completed its first project: a small studio in Los Angeles.

The 320-square-foot (30-square-metre) prefabricated building is situated on a hillside in northern LA, and serves as an office and music studio for an Oscar-nominated sound editor.

Cover unit by Cover

The white, rectangular structure consists of a steel framing and floor-to-ceiling glass. Inside, the building’s single room is fitted with wooden flooring, contemporary decor and built-in storage. An air-tight building envelope and a radiant heating-and-cooling system help keep energy costs low.

Cover unit by Cover

The unit, which took three months to design and build, was assembled in Cover‘s LA factory and then shipped to the site. The project cost $110,000 (£83,450), which included foundation work.

It is the first completed unit by the company, which produces customised backyard homes often referred to as accessory dwellings — touted by some as a way to increase density and provide affordable housing in growing metro areas.

Cover unit by Cover

Ranging from 100 to 1,200 square feet (nine to 111 square metres), the dwellings can be used to accommodate guests, in-laws or rent-paying tenants, or they can serve as studios, workshops, pool houses or lounges.

Cover unit by Cover

“Cover sets out to make living and working in a thoughtfully designed and well-built space a reality for everyone,” said the company, which was launched in 2014 and is backed by venture capital funding. The cofounders, Alexis Rivas and Jemuel Joseph, have architecture degrees and formerly worked at design studios.

Cover unit by Cover

The company uses digital tools to streamline the design and construction process. Clients provide details – such as design preferences and site conditions – which are fed into a proprietary computer program that generates multiple design options. Within days, clients receive renderings and plans, along with a full quote.

After the design is chosen, Cover obtains the necessary permits, installs the foundation, assembles the structure in its factory, and ships the components to the site. Assembly and installation take 12 weeks, according to the company.

Cover unit by Cover

“Unlike other prefab companies and builders, Cover is a technology company first, armed with a team of full-time software engineers, designers, manufacturing engineers and architects who have developed technology that streamlines the entire process of designing, buying, permitting, manufacturing and assembling Cover units,” said Rivas.

The Cover dwellings are the latest in a series of projects that utilise generative design tools, which experts say could transform both the physical world and the role of the designer. The emerging technology uses algorithms to generate every possible permutation of a design solution.

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3Novices:Billie van Katwijk transforms discarded cow stomachs into leathery material

Design Academy Eindhoven graduate Billie van Katwijk has developed a process for turning bovine guts into a material that can be used to make bags and accessories, and is presenting the results at Dutch Design Week.

Van Katwijk began her Ventri project after discovering that cows stomachs are considered a waste material, so are usually thrown out. Her aim was to create a more sustainable alternative to leather.

“In the meat industry this is a waste product, it’s ground into dog food,” she told Dezeen. “But I think it’s really amazing, and I want to bring it out and show it’s a useful material that has all the properties of leather.”

The designer began by visiting a slaughterhouse, where she was given bags full of discarded stomachs that she took back to her studio to clean.

Working alongside a tannery, Van Katwijk developed a tanning process that makes the stomachs hygienic and safe to repurpose.

“Before I cleaned them, the smell was disgusting,” she said. “But now the material is totally clean, like normal leather, and it just smells of the tanning process.”

“By tanning them, I preserved them and transformed them into a useful material.”

Because cows have four different stomachs, the pieces of material are decorated with four different textures – one appears more fur-like, another has deep folds, a third has a honeycomb structure, and a fourth has surface patterns from different muscles.

To show how material made from cow stomachs could be implemented into the design industry, Van Katwijk has created a range of handbags – each informed by the different textures.

“The project is about how we perceive waste, and how materials can be seen as valuable,” she said. “I like that it goes from slaughterhouse waste – the lowest of the low – to something that you want to touch and own.”

“I want to change the perception, and show that it can be used in luxury products.”

Van Katwijk is presenting her project at this year’s Design Academy Eindhoven graduate show, which takes place as part of Dutch Design Week from 21 to 29 October 2017.

She is one of a number of designers at the week-long event looking to repurpose waste products, such as Lotte Douwes, who used shards of porcelain that would have otherwise been thrown away to create a range of translucent tableware.

Also at Dutch Design Week, Dezeen has been hosting a series of talks looking at whether design can provide answers to the world’s big problems, from terrorism to climate change. All of these talks are available to watch via our Good Design for a Bad World page.

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3Novices:Al-Jawad Pike combines brick, concrete and timber for restrained London home extension

“Matter-of-fact” materials such as concrete, brick, and timber in muted tones have been used to create this extension to a family home in Stoke Newington, north London.

Bayston road by Al-Jawad Pike

London-based architects Al-Jawad Pike expanded the Victorian property for a teacher, a TV producer, and their young daughter.

The studio was asked to create a new cooking and dining area that directly overlooked the garden – replacing a former kitchen it said had been cramped and dark, with views to the outdoors obstructed by a small utility annex.

Bayston road by Al-Jawad Pike

The studio, which is lead by Jessam Al-Jawad and Dean Pike, designed the extension as one open space and employed simple materials in a restrained colour palette.

Grey brick walls have been paired with Douglas fir floor boards, while concrete has been used for the kitchen work surfaces. Oak finished with natural oil has also been used for cabinetry including integrated shelving.

Bayston road by Al-Jawad Pike

This aesthetic was largely inspired by Belgian architect Juliaan Lampens, who is recognised for his use of concrete on the interior and exterior of buildings. Lampens’ work also informed a project by architects Clauwers & Simon, which made extensive use of board-marked concrete to build a rural home in Belgium’s Limburg province.

“His unusual combinations of matter-of-fact materials were a significant influence,” Al-Jawad told Dezeen. “We wanted to avoid using paint as much as possible.”

Bayston road by Al-Jawad Pike

“The use of grey [bricks] was a subtle reference to brutalism, and combining it with the room’s concrete and oak joinery elements seemed an interesting way to offset a rough surface with some refinement,” he added.

Bayston road by Al-Jawad Pike

A brick staircase illuminated by a skylight links the new kitchen to the original house.

Daylight also filters through from an oak-framed full-height window at the front of the extension, which slides open to allow access to the garden.

Bayston road by Al-Jawad Pike

Other architecture practices have also opted to use pared-back materials for residential extensions in London. Gundry & Ducker added a sooty brick tower to the back of a residence in Islington, while Amin Taha used rugged concrete for a basement extension to a home in Bayswater.

Photography is by Ståle Eriksen.

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3Novices:MVRDV presents a house you can reconfigure at Dutch Design Week

Dutch studio MVRDV has built a colourful, futuristic house, made up of nine rooms that can be moved into different configurations.

On show in Eindhoven for Dutch Design Week 2017, (W)ego is a concept for a micro dwelling that can adapt to the different needs of any future inhabitants – whether they be families, students or refugees.

Each colourful room is assigned to a different function. These include a hot-pink bathroom, a bright yellow sleeping space, a vibrant purple bathroom, and an acid-green section containing ladders and hammocks.

MVRDV developed the project in collaboration with The Why Factory, the firm’s in-house research lab. It forms part of an exploration into how cities will develop in the future, in the face of issues such as climate change, declining resources and rapid population growth.

The designers describe (W)ego as a hotel, where guests have to confront and negotiate the dream spaces of other occupants.

“Based on the hypothesis that the maximum density could be equal to the maximum of desires, this research conducted by the Why Factory explores the potentials of negotiation in dense context,” said MVRDV co-founder Winy Maas, who is one of Dutch Design Week’s three ambassadors.

“Through gaming and other tools, (W)ego explores participatory design processes to model the competing desires and egos of each resident in the fairest possible way.”

Based in Rotterdam, MVRDV is led by Maas along with Jacob van Rijs and Nathalie de Vries. The studio’s other recent projects include a plant-covered city walkway in Seoul and a tower block that resembles a giant staircase.

(W)ego has been erected at Markt Square and will be on show throughout Dutch Design Week, which runs from 21 to 29 October 2017.

It is one of four projects that MVRDV is showing during the event, including a book that encourages architects to copy ideas from others. It builds on ideas from past Why Factory projects – particularly the Vertical Village.

There are no plans to reconfigure the installation during the week-long event. However it is double-sided, so visitors can see two possible arrangements.

Photography is by Ossip van Duivenbode.

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