In Line with Artists

Artists tend to converse in spite of time and distance. Jean-Michel Basquiat was a New York legend, emerging from nowhere onto the 1980s SoHo scene, entering Warhol’s Factory, and imprinting the city’s cultural memory. Cy Twombly was the modernist master of warped calligraphy, tracing miles of squiggles, dashes, and scrawls during his 60-year career. Egon Schiele was a turbulent Expressionist Austrian illustrator, whose gaunt figures, shivering with razor-sharp outlines, appeal to our anxieties and fantasies a century later.

They share a fundamental artistic trait: Their treatment of lines, which quake as if responding to a mutual psychological tremor. In “Poetics of the Gesture,” opening this week at Nahmad Contemporary, viewers can see works side-by-side. It’s a chance to consider what tied them together through decades, and to reflect on their appeal.

“You feel the physical touch of those artists on the canvas,” says curator Dieter Buchhart. There’s a sense of how the artist moved his body to make a work “so distinct, so energetic.”

Though the three are of different generations and art historical movements, chance and concurrence entwine them. Basquiat greatly admired Twombly, and the two exhibited together at Documenta 7 in Germany. Photographer Sherrie Levine resurrected Schiele’s memory in works like the 1982 photographic print After Schiele, which appropriated his self-portraits. He became relevant to current discussions–Basquiat reportedly made an homage to Schiele, now lost–though of course “he was pretty dead at the time,” says Buchhart of the Austrian artist, whose life ended in 1918. At 28, he had succumbed to Spanish flu. Seventy years later, Basquiat overdosed on heroin at 27. Twombly lived for 83 years, until 2011. His New York Times obituary mentions Basquiat’s adherence.

In the show, Basquiat is angled as a well-informed culmination of Schiele’s twisting figures and Twombly’s sketchy shapes. “Many things unify all three of them, but the vector always goes to Basquiat,” Buchhart explains. “He is about work and knowledge–a revolution in the ’80s.”

About 20 pieces will be on display from the Brooklyn-born artist, juxtaposed with about five works on paper by Twombly and 10 drawings by Schiele. Together in the gallery these speak with the others, muttering secrets of their makers.