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  • Words and Photos by Sarah Sansom

My East Village Basquiat Experience

The show stopping wall of stretched canvases on the second floor.

Late one February night, I got a message about a new, free Jean-Michel Basquiat exhibit. I loved the sound of the show and went to the ticket page. Sold by time slots, I tried weekends (sold out) evenings (sold out) then decided to skip a few hours of work and book a weekday. After trying several dates, I got a ticket a week after the opening. Woot! By the next evening, the show has sold 50,000 tickets and was fully booked for its 3-month run.

But wait! The day before my booking, I had bad news at work. We'd been given a pitch, and the work was due in two days. That usually means you stop everything else and work every hour possible. Should I go into hero mode and give up my chance to see Basquiat? Would I regret it? Of course. I worked extra late that night to make up the time, and was ready to go!

Yes, I got there really early, and she doesn't know what she's missing

On the morning itself, a small line formed outside the Brant Foundation Art Study Center on 6th Street. My ticket was checked, I was ushered into a sleek back elevator and transported to the top floor. My group was small, approximately ten people, so there was plenty of space to see the work properly.

4th Floor:

The show is comprised of 70 of Basquiat’s most important works from the Brant Collection (see below) as well as from international museums and private collections. Much of it was just shown at the Louis Vuitton Foundation show in Paris. Some is being exhibited for the first time in New York, ironically.

On the fourth floor a water-covered skylight casts natural light over nine large-scale works, shown above (click to enlarge), A second room with incredible views over the East Village, where Basquiat spent much of his time, held smaller framed drawings.

Video of 4th floor work supplied by Artist Adrian Wilson from his visit

'Jean-Michel Basquiat's Solo Exhibit in the East Village is not to be missed. The 4-floor venue, with huge windows and high ceilings, matches Basquiat's paintings perfectly. They are like yin and yang finally came together after being apart for years. While Basquiat paintings are dark, psychedelic and chaotic, the venue is bright, airy and welcoming.

This exhibit resurfaces Basquiat’s artwork and unique story, and I’m grateful to have seen that.'

- NYC Travel guide Mickey, New York Live with Mickey


3rd Floor:

Work here includes 'Untitled,' (bottom right) Basquiat’s 1982 painting of a skull bought by Yusaku Maezawa for $110.5 million at Sotheby’s in 2017. My personal favorite here is 'Boy and dog in a Johnnypump' (top) from 1982, as well as works directly on wood.

Video from Adrian Wilson (look out for the cute toddler).

'This exhibition will bring joy to a lot of people. The questions and complications it contains will reach far beyond Sixth Street and the art world.' - Martha Schwendener, The New York Times.


2nd Floor:

The second floor is the pièce de résistance, with a huge wall of 16 pieces creating a magnificent display of Basquiat's work. These are stretched over crossed pieces of wood, a signature of his early style.

Video from Adrian Wilson (seen here) curator of The Same old Gallery pop up at Basquiat's loft building.

Almost all of the work here is from 1982, when he shifted from street art to the studio and was supplied with large canvases by a new dealer. He had a string of solo shows around the world, and was said to be free of the pressures that came after fame and fortune. It was the room I spent the most time in, and found hard to leave.

‘So freakin' well hung’ - Anonymous male visitor behind me.


1st Floor:

Work on the 1st and final floor includes 'Grillo' (1984) a unique relief work of four panels that alternate between figurative and abstract. Just a few pieces here, that lead you to...

The Gift Shop:

The gift shop was minimal, with a few books (no catalog) canvas note set and Moleskine Journal, as well as a few tees.

I had reached out to Al Diaz, Basquiat's partner in the graffiti duo SAMO©... to see what he thought of the show:

'It looks as if they showed some of the work that had been at the Vuitton Foundation show in Paris, but not as complete or as well curated. It was, however, pleasurable to see all those paintings and at the same time walk through that building that I have passed by all my life, yet never entered. There is an air of class separatism to the whole place; they have the empty lot behind the building as a driveway, giving the building a footprint which spans from 6th Street thru’ 7th Street. This reads as privilege, control and Major League Imperialism.

The salon-style wall of paintings (making use of what looks like a 30’ ceiling height) was “cool" in theory but fails in practice. Those paintings were made to be READ as well as VIEWED and the words are hardly visible as you go further up.

The most annoying thing I found was a staff of interns who knew very little of the work. I overheard one young lady telling some visitors how JMB 1) Died at the age of 28 and 2) was in a car accident in Harlem, and that’s probably why he liked to draw cars, sometimes crashing into each other. I had to interject and correct her on the age, 27, but I couldn’t touch that Harlem car crash story. It was far too ludicrous. Perhaps she thinks that ALL black people and all BLACK related incidents occur in Harlem??

All in all it was nice to be able to see the work without flying to Paris or Brazil or Montreal, but they offer very little insight into the work. A novice may very well walk away from there being a MISINFORMED NOVICE…' - Al Diaz


I experienced the same lack of knowledge from the staff, though friendly, and was dismayed by the lack of information provided.The building is definitely a contrast to the gritty former East Village and the projects across the street.

The building:

Can I live here? Spectacular views and an underwater skylight make this Gluckman Tang renovation to die for.

The show occupies a century-old building originally designed as a electrical substation for Consolidated Edison. The building subsequently served as the home and studio of artist Walter De Maria from the mid-1980s until his death in 2013. Brant bought it for $27 million later that year.

I also looked into who The Brant Foundation is: a private art collection/gallery with another exhibition spaces in Greenwich, CT. The collections, focused on modern and contemporary art, are privately owned by Peter Brant and open to the public.

Brant met Basquiat in 1984 through Andy Warhol; the first painting he bought, for between $45,000 and $50,000, The Price of Gasoline in the Third World (1982), is included in the show, as are two of his favorite works, Per Capita (1981) and Boy and Dog in a Johnnypump (1982). He owns about 25 works and is still adding to his Basquiat collection (source:


My final takeaway of the show?

It was an spiritually elevating experience taking in so much Basquiat art in one place, without the crowds of a public museum. However, I wish I'd come away learning more about the artist and the meaning behind his work. The show did, however, allow me to appreciate and reconnect with his painting and my adopted city. If you can get a ticket, I would go!



The Brant Foundation Art Study Center

421 East 6th Street | New York, NY 10009 Map

Through May 15, 2019

Sign up for the waitlist here.

Timed entry Wednesday - Sunday 10am - 6.30pm

No camera photography allowed (phone photography permitted).

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