When Jean-Michel Basquiat Goofed Around

In 1979, Jean-Michel Basquiat and his friend Alexis Adler got a small nondescript apartment in the East Village. It was here, for the first time, that the Brooklyn native and future art star was completely on his own, confined neither by school nor by career.

These formative two years that they lived together would prove to be pivotal for Basquiat. He both lived and worked inside the apartment, goofing around with found objects lifted from the city streets while inadvertently developing his unique free association style of art.

The following photographs, taken by Adler and on view at MCA Denver, show us this other side of Basquiat, that of an emerging artist forever in self-discovery. In the show catalog, Adler writes, “Apartment F8 was a haven for Jean to learn and explore and hone his expression as it coalesced from street tag to high art form. Jean studied my meager college library of biology and chemistry texts along with Janson’s History of Art and a book of Picasso prints that was passed on to me by a college roommate…. With no electricity or even running water — the pipes had been ripped out, scavenged, and sold as scrap metal — these buildings became infernos keeping junkies both high and warm. We were punk pioneers, homesteading in this ever-evolving remnant of the neighborhood. Art blossomed by feeding off the lawless decay.”

Basquiat Before Basquiat: East 12th Street, 1979-1980, Museum of Contemporary Art Denver

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