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Purvis Young’s spiritual artwork will resonate during Miami Art Week and beyond | Opinion
The work of the late Miami-based artist Purvis Young is on exhibit at the FATVillage Arts District, in Fort Lauderdale. FATVILLAGE ARTS DISTRICT INC.
Miami is about to become the epicenter of the contemporary art world., and Black art will be a major presence during the Art Basel scene. Purvis Young and Jean-Michel Basquiat are among the famous Black artists whose work will command center stage during Miami Art Week.
They were both of Afro-Caribbean heritage, street artists who have made a significant impact in the contemporary art world. They were both deep and enigmatic souls.
Young is one of the most famous artists to emerge from South Florida. His work is in many important collections, including that of the Metropolitan Museum of Art. His prolific and iconic work puts him in the creative league of many of the leading contemporary artists in the world. Yet Young’s work does not yet command the art prices that Basquiat’s work brings in.
Young and Basquiat were both self-taught artists whose work focuses on Black life in urban America and social-justice issues in general. Young had roots in the Bahamas; Basquiat’s mother was from Puerto Rico and his father was from Haiti. These artists were both neo-expressionists and developed unique visual-art languages that defined their styles.
Both Young and Basquiat dropped out of high school. Basquiat had a fast and short life, dying in 1988 at 28. Young died in 2010, at 68. He left behind a larger collection of work than Basquiat. However, the market for Basquiat’s work has made him the highest selling American visual artist sold at auction — $110 million — and clearly one of the most valued contemporary artists in the world.
In the early 1980s, Basquiat was clearly entrenched in New York high society’s cultural scene. He became a master of the gallery game and displayed networking moves that made him a celebrity. He was a smooth operator, known for panhandling T-shirts, postcards and sweatshirts with his artwork.
Young, however, died broke, mostly because he was not a good businessperson and entrusted his work to a number of people — though not all — who exploited his generosity and looted a significant amount of his work. Young did not pay attention to the culture of the art market and some of his business handlers took full advantage of his naivete.
Young was a spiritual man. His universe was filled with angels and ancestors, and he acknowledged that he always prayed to God to make him a great artist. Young was a rare and beautiful soul who emerged from a troubled childhood to become one of the hardest working artists in Miami, driven by a spiritual calling to use his talent and vision to expose the flawed underbelly of the sociopolitical infrastructure of contemporary American life. Young had little interest in materialism.
In Miami, Young is an art superhero. He is revered by Black Miami. My curatorial work at the ARC, a Black art center in Opa-locka, made that clear to me.
Young continues to capture the imagination of the global art world. Since 2018, his work has been featured in major exhibitions at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, the Rubell Museum and the Institute of Contemporary Art in Miami.
In 2019, the Tampa Museum of Art curated a major Young exhibition that included a parallel show of Basquiat’s work.
That same year, “Purvis Young: Personal Structures Ideas” was curated specifically for the Venice Biennale at Palazzo Mora.
The interest in Young’s work does not seem to be waning. And, in Miami, his presence will be a significant one during Art Week.
Ludlow Bailey is a Miami-based cultural curator who specializes in contemporary art of the African. His most recent exhibition of Purvis Young’s work can be seen at FATVillage, 521 NW First Ave Fort Lauderdale. The work of Basquiat will be on view at White Cube Gallery at the Miami Beach Convention Center.