rare photos of a young basquiat in his east village home
An intimate exhibition explores Jean-Michel Basquiat’s time living with his former girlfriend Alexis Adler in downtown New York.
Basquiat in the apartment, 1980. Photograph by Alexis Adler.
Based firmly in the late-70s downtown New York art scene, a new love letter of an exhibition explores Basquiat's time living with his former girlfriend Alexis Adler from 1979 to 1980.
"Basquiat Before Basquiat: East 12th Street, 1979-1980," opened at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Denver on February 11th, and is the first museum show to focus on the work and life of the artist in the brief time he lived with Adler in a sixth-floor walk-up in the East Village of Manhattan.
The Denver museum has even built a partial recreation of the railroad-style apartment as it looked when Basquiat lived there, and a reproduction of the building's Basquiat-graffitied hallways and stairwells. The work on display centers on the period in Basquiat's life before painting came into play. Adler has saved more than 100 photos, art objects, and ephemera from the era that supplement Basquiat's own pieces — which include a sculpture Basquiat made of an old radiator he found on the street and a photos of exploring performance and sitting in the bathtub playing the clarinet.
Adler met Basquiat in 1979 when he was just 19 years old. He was four years younger than her, and she and her friends had been admiring his graffiti and SAMO© tags all over downtown. Not long after, the two moved into a 400-square-foot squat on East 12th Street. During the months they lived together, Basquiat transformed the floors, walls, doors, and furniture into raw materials for his creative explorations. The sketches on view in the exhibition feature diagrams of chemical compounds the artist borrowed from Adler's science textbooks.
Basquiat had a long list of lovers in his short life and while many of them have kept remnants of their time with him, this exhibition offers a more intimate look at the young artist's earliest moments exploring art.
Also on view is a series of personal photographs of the artist taken by Adler. They show him playing with broken eyeglasses found on the street, creating a horror-movie mask with Silly Putty, and goofing around with a football helmet on his head as he tunes a TV that the couple had placed inside their refrigerator.
By late 1981, when Basquiat moved out, he had turned his artistic focus from the streets to a studio-based painting practice. Just seven years later, in 1988, the artist died of a heroin overdose, at 27. But we are forever excited to see his work shown in new ways.
"Basquiat Before Basquiat: East 12th Street, 1979-1980" is on view at MCA Denver until May 7, 2017.
Text Jo Rosenthal
Images courtesy of Kubany Judlow and The Museum of Contemporary Art Denver