Relive The Party That Launched Jean-Michel Basquiat's Art Career

27 March 2019
Jean-Michel Basquiat
Getty Images
To celebrate the 40th anniversary the "Canal Zone Party", Guggenheim Abu Dhabi is hosting a event as a nod to the Manhattan downtown club scene

Few unknowns could have made a more memorable art world debut the way Jean-Michael Basquiat did in April 1979 at a warehouse party in New York City.

It was the day the gifted street artist from Brooklyn became a household name among his peers.

The “Canal Zone Party” was conceived by Stan Peskett, Michael Holman and Fab 5 Freddy.

The idea was to host an event with the Fab Five graffiti group, of which Fab 5 Freddy was a member, and the more “upscale” downtown artists world as a way to develop a more collaborative art scene.

As Holman and Peskett recall, Basquiat showed up at the party with a shaved mohawk and asked to participate. Though they didn’t know him, they knew of SAMO, a graffiti collective he had started with friends. Basquiat was given a nine-foot-wide roll of paper, on which he wrote: “Which of the following is omniprznt? A. Lee Harvey Oswald, B. Coca-Cola Logo, C. General Melonry, D. SAMO ©.”

Basquiat’s live drawing cemented his arrival on the Downtown art scene and set him on the road to fame. It also marked the beginning of a friendship between Holman and the artist. Along with Shannon Dawson, the two started Gray, a no wave band that arose along with the funk genre whose signature was raw and dissonant noise. They frequently performed at the Mudd Club in Tribeca, a centre for underground music and counterculture events that drew artists, celebrities and activists alike.

To celebrate the 40th anniversary of this event, Guggenheim Abu Dhabi is hosting Canal Zone Party Remix, a nod to the Manhattan downtown club scene and places like the Mudd Club.

For one night, Manarat Al Saadiyat will serve as an alternative space for expression and creativity, with local DJs spinning early rap, punk and no wave mixed with contemporary underground music.

Part of the experience includes video projections, art installations and live work by local graffiti artists, both channeling and honouring the original event.

Guggenheim Abu Dhabi: Canal Zone Party Remix
18 April | 8pm onwards
Gallery M, Manarat Al Saadiyat