Angelina Jolie has acquired an interesting piece of real estate when she took over the East Village building where neo-expressionist painter Jean-Michel Basquiat lived. The Civil War-era building has been converted into a boutique to house Atelier Jolie, an art business where you can make custom T-shirts, sip coffee and, of course, treat yourself to a few extra fashion pieces in the process, on 4 December.
The reaction from fans and the trade has been less than positive, but at least it’s not just another Starbucks, and the homage to one of the 20th century’s most important artists is evident throughout the interior.
But the history of 57 Great Jones Street in Manhattan is not only interesting because of the painter: it was originally built in the 1860s as a stable and later occupied by mobster Paul Kelly, leader of the notorious Five Points gang. Andy Warhol bought the 613-square-metre, two-storey building in 1970 and leased it to Basquiat, who lived and worked there for five years from 1983 until his death in 1988. Al Diaz, who was Basquiat’s partner in a graffiti duo called SAMO©, had lunch with Jolie, a big fan of graffiti and street art, several decades later. Incidentally, the SAMO© graffiti discovered during the renovation was not created by Basquiat, but by Diaz as part of an exhibition of his own work, which was held there in 2018.
Alexis Adler, a friend of the artist who lived with Basquiat in the early 1980s, said: “This place is still associated with him and the art he made there. It could be a McDonald’s or something like that and not be associated with him. Hopefully [Jolie] will understand that it’s in this important space and maybe pay homage to it in some way.” Dieter Buchhart, art historian and Basquiat expert, was less positive, suggesting that there were better ways to protect Basquiat’s legacy than turning his last home and studio into a fashion boutique. “There were much less important artists who were given their own museums. …This space is Basquiat’s only such connection with the city, with Warhol, with everything. I think that should really be respected.” Patti Astor, who ran the Fun Gallery, the East Village space that exhibited Basquiat, Keith Haring and other greats of the era, echoed similar sentiments. “I’m sure everyone would like to see some kind of tribute here, but let’s wait and see,” he said.
Basquait’s last major exhibition had just closed its doors in Los Angeles on January 1, travelling from New York’s Starrett-Lehigh Building to the other side of the country. Organized and curated by Jean-Michel Basquiat’s family, the exhibition of more than 200 never-before-seen and rarely shown paintings, drawings and artworks told the painter’s story from an intimate perspective, interweaving his artistic endeavors with his personal life, influences and the era in which he lived. Basquiat’s contribution to art history and to the exploration of a wide range of cultural phenomena, including music and popular culture, was showcased.