Denver museum showcases Basquiat’s work from pivotal time


Basquiat in the apartment, 1981. Photograph by Alexis Adler.


DENVER – The Museum of Contemporary Art Denver is now showing “Basquiat Before Basquiat: East 12th Street, 1979-1980,” based on a cache of works made by Jean-Michel Basquiat during the year he lived with his friend Alexis Adler in an apartment in the East Village.

This archival material provides rare insight into the artistic life of Basquiat (1960-1988) before he was recognized as a prominent painter in the early 1980s. While living there, Basquiat’s creative impulses moved fluidly from his SAMO tags on the surrounding streets and neighborhood into a more sustained practice in their shared home. Through paintings, sculpture, works on paper, a notebook, and other ephemera, as well as Adler’s numerous photographs from this period, this exhibition explores how the context of life in New York informed and formed Basquiat’s artistic practice.

As Adler notes, “From mid-1979 to mid-1980, I lived with Jean in three different apartments, but for most of that time in an apartment that we moved into and shared on East 12th Street. This was a time before Jean had canvases to work with, so he used whatever he could get his hands on, as he was constantly creating. The derelict streets of the East Village provided his raw materials and he would bring his finds up the six flights of stairs to incorporate into his art. Jean was able to make money for paint and his share of the rent, which was $80 a month, by selling sweatshirts on the street. He knew that he was a great artist.”

Staged in four galleries on the first floor of MCA Denver, the exhibition and book present New York City in the late 1970s and early 1980s through the prism of Jean-Michel Basquiat’s art and provide a window into the art-rich time that he emerged from as well as impacted so profoundly.

“Basquiat Before Basquiat: East 12th Street, 1979-1980” is on view through May 7, 2017. The exhibition is curated by Nora Burnett Abrams.