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jean-michel basquiat: king pleasure©

This retrospective exhibition at the Starrett-Lehigh building in Chelsea featured more than 200 artworks and artefacts from the collection of the artist’s estate, most of which had previously not been on public show.

The exhibition fused together many of FRAY’s skill sets from story telling to immersive experiences.

Story Telling

The exhibition featured screens showing interviews with family and close friends of Jean-Michel. These interviews were directed by Sophia Loren Heriveaux, Jean-Michel’s niece, and provided a remarkable resource of assets, ready to be mined for stories.

The raw interview footage totalled 14 hours and 10TB of recordings. All of which had to be sifted through to discover the themes and stories that could provide a unique look into Jean-Michel’s life. Early in our work with this footage we decided that we would break with convention and not cut away from the interview’s subject to show images or B roll to hide the edit points. This created a huge challenge when editing these stories, but we felt that it was crucial to maintain the personal connection between the viewer and the storyteller.

We first edited these films sitting together around a dining table. We cut the transcript into ribbons and pieced the stories together into something that felt special before moving on to Premiere Pro to start to build them as linear sequences.

These interviews had to walk the tightrope between feeling unique and personal whilst still being concise enough to be enjoyable to stand and watch. The first drafts would often come in at four times the length of the final versions, with each subsequent edit we got closer to the heart of the story.

The colour grading and framing was also incredibly important. Again we broke with interview convention to create something warmer and more nostalgic, deciding on a warm glow and a 4:3 crop to mimic television programmes at the time Jean-Michel was working.

Great Jones Street

FRAY was entrusted with adapting original notebook pages of Jean-Michel’s into a playful sequence which was projected onto the front of the recreation of the Great Jones Street building.

We maintained the layout of the original artwork, with only minor adjustments to help the projection to fit onto the architecture of the building. Each separate character and element from the notebooks was broken down into individual parts, then hand-animated so that the process of writing or drawing could be recreated. We then used a physics engine so that the completed text and sketches seem to react to gravity and tumble away.

Having the blessing of the family to take and interpret these pieces of art into a new form was a unique opportunity for FRAY, and one which the team really appreciated.

The subtle animation created a focal point within a main galleries. It also quietly embraces Jean-Michel’s playful side, using technology that was not available when he was creating art.

Michael Todd Room

In the Michael Todd room, two striking works by Jean-Michele were accompanied by a 14 foot high CRT style monitor wall. This wall was made of 15, 50” monitors, all encased in a custom-built piece of set, designed to perfectly mimic the scale and style of a CRT Monitor Wall found in the Palladium Night Club in New York in the 1980s.

Running alongside the development of the physical build was work to source the materials to display on it. An exhaustive process was undertaken to identify the underground photographers who had captured the sub culture of the Palladium and Mudd Club. Most of these photographers do not work with agents or sell their images through an agency, so the personal approach had to be adopted. The processes of gathering assets took five months and involved communications with more than 20 photographers. As a result we were able to source 4000 rarely-seen images from the time period.

A chance sighting on YouTube led us to discover a small segment of an Australian documentary looking at the technology used inside the Palladium nightclub. After hunting down the rights holder, we were able to access the original rushes of the documentary. Through these rushes we unearthed a vast, unseen collection of broadcast-quality footage taken within the Palladium nightclub. It took six months to move from initially seeing the footage on YouTube, finding the rights holders, digitising and licensing, to finally using the footage within the final composition. This process was worth every minute because it allowed us to put some truly unique footage at the heart of the video experience.


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