As is only fitting, reporter and New York Times columnist Hoban's zippy biography of the painter Jean-Michel Basquiat is less concerned with art than culture. Basquiat, iconic if nothing else, epitomized the flickering sort of fame that tended to typify celebrity in the 1980s, alighting anywhere on anyone at any moment; it was up to the beneficiary to make something of this. Basquiat made good on his own, or so Hoban would seem to believe. Indeed, she even thinks he earned his good fortune, combining volatility, volubility, and "street" credibility into a concoction irresistible to the period's New York art-world star-makers. Hoban constructs a persuasively awful account of the ethical squalor that drove the commerce of art to excesses whose wretchedness was only eclipsed by that of Wall Street. As for the art that ostensibly played some part in Basquiat's sudden skid across our cultural radar, Hoban doesn't trouble herself much about it. Then again, convincing arguments could be made—and Hoban straddles the fence here—that where Basquiat was concerned, art was always beside the point. Her preface, in fact, offers a chronological portrait of the artist's hair. Basquiat, despite the imposing swell of anecdote stirred up by Hoban, still comes across as little more than a colorful cipher.
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