Basquiat Before Basquiat

East 12th Street, 1979-1980

Exhibition Website

Feb 11 2017 - May 14 2017

Basquiat Before Basquiat: East 12th Street, 1979-1980 includes the entire cache of works made by Jean-Michel Basquiat during the year he lived with his friend Alexis Adler in a small apartment in the East Village. This archival material provides rare insight into the artistic life of Basquiat before he was recognized as a prominent painter in the early 1980s. While living in this apartment, 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 St. 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."

Spanning four galleries on the first floor of MCA Denver, the exhibition and book will 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. It will sharpen and deepen our understanding of this artist at a vital yet mostly unknown, or at least under-discussed, moment of his career. Ultimately, this exhibition will attest to Basquiat’s virtuosity in formation—the creative impulses that yielded a distinctive voice, but also the many diversions or paths he explored as he was developing a signature style.

Credit: Exhibition overview from museum website

 Whether or not you go,  East 12th Street 1979-1980 surveys the life and work of artist Jean-Michel Basquiat as he emerged as a pioneering and virtuoso painter and performer. Published in conjunction with the MCA Denver exhibition of the same title, this book tells the story of what unfolded within apartment F8 and how the creative impulses evident in Basquiat's home spilled into the streets of the neighborhood. Basquiat Before Basquiat features never-before-published photographs, and creative and critical texts exploring a moment that shaped Basquiat's artistic practice.  

In 1979, a young Jean-Michel Basquiat was spreading his tag, SAMO, throughout downtown Manhattan and roaming the nightclubs and bars of the East Village. When he moved into this sixth-floor walkup, the apartment became a site of artistic experimentation: Basquiat painted every surface, made sculpture from trash dragged from the street, filled dozens of notebooks, and staged performances, all captured by Adler's camera or salvaged for her archive.

  • American
  • 20th Century
  • Jean-Michel Basquiat

Exhibition Venues & Dates