Jean-Michel Basquiat catapulted to fame during the 1980s with his carnal, colorful paintings. Since then, contradiction has been his most loyal fan. He’s been labeled genius and absurd. He grew to global stardom, but lived as a recluse. He championed anti-capitalist rebellion, but his paintings are some of the most expensive ever sold. Debates about the cost of notoriety and the power of money are so bound with Basquiat’s legacy, you almost forget how short his life was. The artist was only 27 when he died from a heroin overdose, the age I turn next year. And while neither the Whitney Museum nor Gagosian Gallery are knocking down my door, I relate to the paralyzing shock and pressing weight of early success in one’s career. That’s why I know just how important it is to have a mentor and a friend. Enter, Andy Warhol.
Anthony McCarten’s illustrative new play, “The Collaboration” introduces us to these two artistic mega minds in the late 20th century when they agreed to work together on a series of paintings. The production — a direct transfer from the Young Vic Theatre in London’s West End — arrives at Broadway’s Samuel J. Friedman Theatre at a time when the theater industry is ripe with conversations about the true meaning of art: to entertain? To disturb? The play sets itself on this debate and spends an overwhelming amount of time regurgitating each man’s stance. Basquiat insists art must have a purpose and stand up to the establishment. Warhol insists that “ignorable art” is the most thrilling, “art that…that forces you…to ignore it…the same way we’re ignoring life.” McCarten hammers both positions — neither of which is particularly revelatory or original — into the ground for 135 droning minutes.