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My Friend Jean
The collection of original drawings, ephemera and furnishings presented here come from an artist and close friend of Jean-Michel Basquiat. The two met one night in December of 1979 in front of the infamous New York nightclub, Tier 3. She was immediately drawn to Jean’s bold, charismatic personality.
At that time, still in high school, she worked downtown on Second Avenue in the East Village at Moises Bakery, next to the Kiev Diner. She, Jean and their friends frequented the Kiev alongside the regulars who included artists, punk rockers, and poets—Quentin Crisp, John Lurie, H.R. and Joey Ramone among the crowd. She remembers waiting for Jean at Kiev the day Glenn O’Brien took him to Warhol’s studio and how excited he was not only to have spent time with Warhol but also that Warhol purchased some of his hand-painted sweatshirts. In years to come, she would dine with Jean and Andy in the garden at Barbetta’s and at Texarcana.
Connected through their acquaintances and interests, the two artists would cross paths frequently over the years. She was there for the sound check when Basquiat and his bandmates named themselves Gray, the color of the backdrop paper that Jean drew on for their debut performance at the Mudd Club. In 1985, she and Basquiat ran into each other at Evelyn’s restaurant and when he learned she was struggling to make ends meet, he offered her a job as his studio assistant. She showed up to work the very next day where her tasks included preparing surfaces for painting, making Xeroxes at Todd’s Copy shop, as well as listening to jazz, watching the Little Rascals and drinking milk shakes.
During her brief tenure in Basquiat’s studio, she oversaw the completion of the two large paintings for the Palladium’s Michael Todd Room. Ultimately, idle time hanging out in the studio didn’t suit her personality and the arrangement did not last, yet their friendship and bond remained constant. Basquiat attended her solo exhibition at New Math Gallery later that same year, whisking her away from her own opening to eat dinner at Mr. Chows. The following year the two friends traveled to Atlanta together for Basquiat’s first show at Fay Gold Gallery.
Acquired as gifts from Jean on different occasions over the years, the pieces offered here are vestiges of a friendship and the close-knit quality of the New York Art Scene in the 1980s. The original drawings were small tokens gifted from one artist to another on different studio visits, while the Warhol—initially a gift from Andy to Jean—was passed along after Warhol’s death in 1987. Understanding the weight of Basquiat’s loss, she had stopped by to check on him. He had several works by Warhol and when she told him that she liked the one that had hung over his bed for years, Jean took it off the wall and handed it to her. It was a generous gift to remember Warhol by, and more special because it was one of only a few works that Basquiat chose to display in his own home alongside a Joseph Beuy’s felt suit and an oxidized portrait of himself also by Warhol.
The chairs, famously featured on the cover of The New York Times Magazine in the well-known portrait of Basquiat by Lizzie Himmel, were given to her as a gift when Jean was redecorating his home. Since he had discovered the furniture of Gustav Stickley, these now iconic chairs no longer fit the space. She remembers walking the chairs to her apartment on Ludlow Street.
Finally, there are the photographs—images that capture Jean exactly as she remembers him.
Listen as the owner of this special collection shares stories of her friendship with Jean-Michel Basquiat, the New York art scene, these works and more!
Jean-Michel Basquiat was a prolific figure of the 1980s New York art scene rising quickly to fame at a young age before leaving behind a dynamic legacy. Born in Brooklyn, New York to parents of Haitian and Puerto Rican heritage he was raised fluent in French, Spanish, and English. The melding of traditions and odes to African-Caribbean heritage would later become reoccurring themes in his neo-expressionistic body of work. Basquiat showed an interest in art at a young age frequently visiting the Brooklyn Museum of Art, New York among other institutions with his mother.
By 1979, Basquiat was becoming a recognized figure for his graffiti emblazing the Lower East Side with classmate Al Diaz who together formed the creative collaboration SAMO. At the age of seventeen, Basquiat dropped out of school altogether to pursue his career in art. He began selling hand-painted postcards and t-shirts near the steps of the Museum of Modern Art, New York while becoming immersed in the city's art scene in the same year forming a relationship and collaboration with Keith Haring. Basquiat’s first exhibition was a group show in 1980 titled the Times Square Show presenting the downtown and uptown avant-garde works with artists such as Jenny Holzer and Kenny Scharf.
1981 was a record year for Basquiat beginning with his installations in the exhibition, New York / New Wave, which attracted the attention of various art dealers and led to a series of self-curated group exhibitions. He received international gallery exposure with his first solo exhibition at the Galleria d’Arte Emilio Mazzoli in Italy, and in December of that year Rene Ricard wrote an extensive article on Basquiat that was published in Artforum magazine.
In March 1982, his primary art dealer Annina Nosei presented Basquiat's first solo exhibition in the United States followed by five consecutive solos shows that year. In June, at the age of twenty-one, he was the youngest of nearly 200 artists exhibited at documenta 7 in Kassel, Germany alongside Cy Twombly, Andy Warhol, Francesco Clemente, and Keith Haring among others. In the years that followed, he was included in exhibitions at the Whitney Museum of American Art, New York and The Museum of Modern Art, New York. With exorbitant success also came hardships as Basquiat’s personal struggles with drug addiction and other health issues were documented by close friends such as Andy Warhol.
Jean-Michel Basquiat’s untimely death in 1988 halted a brilliant career. In 2017, his painting of a skull became the highest grossing result to ever be achieved at auction by an American artist. His legacy has been honored by retrospectives at the Whitney Museum of American Art in 1992 and the Brooklyn Museum, New York in 2005 among many other institutions that recognize his contributions to art and history.