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1981 to 1984 was a brief period of intense artistic output that established Jean-Michel Basquiat, despite his short career, in the canon of 20th Century art history. 1981 was the year that put the mysterious SAMO artist, friend of Keith Haring and Patti Astor, on the map among the social circle around the Mudd Club, the night club-gallery-hybrid that defined downtown that decade. Basquiat quickly became a major player within New York’s East Village counterculture scene. That same year, the Mudd's co-founder, Diego Cortez, put the 21-year-old Basquiat in a major group show New York/New Wave. By 1983, Basquiat had found his way into the posse of the Met's former curator, Henry Geldzahler. Geldzahler had published a piece in Interview magazine that limned the now-famous key elements of Basquiat’s work: royalty, heroism, and the streets. Despite his youth, the artist’s creative agility and political acumen allowed him to emerge as major force unifying street art with high art. His death at 27 years old perpetuated the image of Basquiat as a wild mystery, an image ironically fueled by the elitism Basquiat so relentlessly critiqued. Over the subsequent decades, Basquiat's stature as an artist would be reevaluated by the very institutions in which he remains under-represented. Now, among the most-valued artists in the market, Basquiat’s legacy is archived throughout a host of milestone record-breaking works.
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