Writing the Future: an MFA Experience for the Mind, Body and Soul


Hector Retamal

The Amazing works of Jean-Michel Basquiat and friends on display at the Boston MFA Writing the Future Exhibit through May 16, 2021

Remi Urbano, Contributing Writer

During the early 1980s, New York City saw crime, poverty, and drugs on the rise. In these dark times and with a lack of options, many resorted to gang life or selling drugs to find community and income. Fueled by the times and in these dire straits, a movement began by “The Writers” as they called themselves. This group of street artists turned their words, images, lyrics, and lifestyle into the visual and auditory soundtrack of the decade. A leader of the movement Jean Michael Basquiat, (aka SAMO) took visual storytelling to new heights through his words and images first crafted on the streets and later for elite art galleries around the world. While Basquiat experimented with a variety of mediums including rap, poetry, and painting, it was his graffiti that ultimately brought his voice to the masses. Alongside artists including A-One, Futura, and Lady Pink, Basquiat played a pivotal role in transforming street art into the heartbeat of hip hop. In Writing the Future, an expansive exhibit now on display at the Boston Museum of Fine Arts (MFA), viewers experience Basquiat and his peers in a sensory series of galleries that explore not only significant pieces but also the importance of the collaborations and relationships that resulted in the movement. Unfortunately, Basquiat died of an overdose at the young age of 27 in 1988, leaving many to wonder all that could have been. “Basquiat was an artist of his time and, after his early death, an artist for all time. Writing the Future illuminates a less-explored aspect of his work and his mutually influential relationships with his peers,” said Matthew Teitelbaum, Director of the MFA.
While the pandemic resulted in delays and pauses, Writing the Future opened at the MFA on October 18, 2020, and will remain on display through May 18, 2021. With many safety measures in place, the MFA provides an extraordinary experience well worth the trip. Whether new to the featured artists or a long-time fan, the 120 pieces (including 25 Basquiat pieces) take patrons on quite a ride. To the outside observer, the colors, content, and mediums of this exhibit stand apart. “When I think about the MFA, I think of art from 100s of years ago. This exhibit really changes my perspective,” says Cam Fuller, a sophomore at HHS hoping to attend the exhibit at a future date. Highlights of the exhibit include combinations of various media including, music, fashion, video footage, sculpture, and paintings. The galleries guide people on a journey through post-graffiti, portraits, writing and graffiti prose, music, and futuristic stylings. The music gallery explores the mixings of art and sound, as well as shares artwork and videos, showing breakdancing and album design. The result is a fully immersive experience into the early 80s scene. Although Basquiat’s leadership in the revolution is undeniable, the strength of the exhibit comes from the power of the pieces together. It demonstrates the indelible influence the artists had on each other. The works of Lady Pink, Kool Koor, Fab 5 Freddy weave and mix through the galleries helping viewers grasp the gravity of the movement in its totality. “I really hope I get to see this exhibit live. The way it weaves together art, music, and fashion from the 80s gives me a whole new perspective of New York during the birth of hip hop,” says Max Mckelvey, HHS 2023.
While reservations book fast, tickets are available online (https://www.mfa.org/tickets) through May 16, 2021. For those not ready to venture out, the MFA also offers an excellent virtual experience to stream for $8.00 (https://selects.mfa.org/).