Seeing Loud: Basquiat and Music
ClientMontreal Museum of Fine Arts
Surface area15.550 sq ft / 1445 m2
More than just a soundtrack to his life, music was hugely important to the artistic practice of Jean-Michel Basquiat.
The exhibition Seeing Loud: Basquiat and Music at Montreal Museum of Fine Art, held in collaboration with the Musée de la Musique – Philharmonie de Paris, shed new light on the musical references and influences of this visionary artist.
The exhibition featured over a hundred of Basquiat’s works, along with with sound clips, film footage and archival documents on his career as an artist, musician and performer. The resulting immersive experience invited visitors to discover the richness of Basquiat’s musical world, his social engagement within the African diaspora, and his critique of the politics of race in the United States.
Each room had its own musical identity, ranging from New York New Wave to hip-hop to the jazz of Charlie Parker, as well as reggae and the African griot tradition. Sound environments, projections and theatrical sets inspired by the 1970s and 1980s immersed visitors in the music and visual language that found their way into Basquiat’s works.
As the experience designer, GSM Project had the pleasure of collaborating with Marie-Dailey Desmarais, chief curator of the MMFA; Dieter Buchhart, guest curator; and Vincent Bessières, guest curator for the Musée de la Musique – Philharmonie de Paris, to develop the storyline, artistic direction, scenography and multimedia components of this standout exhibition.
Our scenographic approach was based on a collage of experiences. The start of the journey featured several “empty” exhibit walls consisting of wooden frames. As visitors moved through the space and discovered the multiple layers of Basquiat’s life and oeuvre, the walls were gradually filled.
Another design feature was asymmetry—the walls were positioned at odd angles, offering new perspectives and creating a destabilizing effect and spatial rhythm, in sync with the artist’s life and musical world.
Like a musical score, the colour scheme was designed to be rhythmic—a monochrome gradient of grey punctuated in certain areas by bursts of deep red. In other spaces, posters were layered on top of each other, evoking the flyposting that was key to the start of the underground movement and Basquiat’s graffiti practice.
The MMFA teamed up with studio Dpt. to develop an augmented reality app Basquiat et la musique as a complement to the exhibition. By immersing themselves in this virtual re-creation of Basquiat’s world, visitors could appreciate even more the effervescence of his work.
For its first major multi-disciplinary exhibition dedicated to music in the oeuvre of Jean-Michel Basquiat, the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts called on GSM Project to design an interactive, sensory visitor experience evoking the musical world of this iconic and emblematic artist.