My Friend Jean

Jean-Michel Basquiat: An Intimate Collection

Wright is pleased to present at auction a collection of original drawings, ephemera and furnishings that come from an artist and close friend of Jean-Michel Basquiat. The two met one night in December of 1979 in front of the infamous New York nightclub, Tier 3. She was immediately drawn to Jean’s bold, charismatic personality.

Jean Michel-Basquiat with his close friend, the present owner of the works offered by Wright, at her opening at New Math Gallery, New York. Photo from the East Village Report.

At that time, still in high school, she worked downtown on Second Avenue in the East Village at Moises Bakery, next to the Kiev Diner. She, Jean and their friends frequented the Kiev alongside the regulars who included artists, punk rockers, and poets — Quentin Crisp, John Lurie, H.R. and Joey Ramone among the crowd. She remembers waiting for Jean at Kiev the day Glenn O’Brien took him to Warhol’s studio and how excited he was not only to have spent time with Warhol but also that Warhol purchased some of his hand-painted sweatshirts. In years to come, she would dine with Jean and Andy in the garden at Barbetta’s and at Texarcana.

Left: the garden at Barbetta’s, New York where the present owner dined with Jean-Michel Basquiat and Andy Warhol; Right: 57 Great Jones Street, the location of Jean-Michel Basquiat’s studio when the present owner briefly worked as his assistant.

Connected through their acquaintances and interests, the two artists would cross paths frequently over the years. She was there for the sound check when Basquiat and his bandmates named themselves Gray, the color of the backdrop paper that Jean drew on for their debut performance at the Mudd Club. In 1985, she and Basquiat ran into each other at Evelyn’s restaurant and when he learned she was struggling to make ends meet, he offered her a job as his studio assistant. She showed up to work the very next day where her tasks included preparing surfaces for painting, making Xeroxes at Todd’s Copy shop, as well as listening to jazz, watching the Little Rascals and drinking milk shakes.

During her brief tenure in Basquiat’s studio, she oversaw the completion of the two large paintings for the Palladium’s Michael Todd Room. Ultimately, idle time hanging out in the studio didn’t suit her personality and the arrangement did not last, yet their friendship and bond remained constant. Basquiat attended her solo exhibition at New Math Gallery later that same year, whisking her away from her own opening to eat dinner at Mr. Chows. The following year the two friends traveled to Atlanta together for Basquiat’s first show at Fay Gold Gallery.

Left: Untitled drawing by Basquiat, circa 1983; Right: Untitled drawing by Basquiat, circa 1984

Acquired as gifts from Jean on different occasions over the years, the pieces offered here are vestiges of a friendship and the close-knit quality of the New York Art Scene in the 1980s. The original drawings were small tokens gifted from one artist to another on different studio visits, while the Warhol — initially a gift from Andy to Jean — was passed along after Warhol’s death in 1987. Understanding the weight of Basquiat’s loss, she had stopped by to check on him. He had several works by Warhol and when she told him that she liked the one that had hung over his bed for years, Jean took it off the wall and handed it to her. It was a generous gift to remember Warhol by, and more special because it was one of only a few works that Basquiat chose to display in his own home alongside a Joseph Beuy’s felt suit and an oxidized portrait of himself also by Warhol.

Jean-Michel Basquiat, 1985 with the chairs being sold on September 27th. Photo by Lizzie Himmel

The chairs, famously featured on the cover of The New York Times Magazine in the well-known portrait of Basquiat by Lizzie Himmel, were given to her as a gift when Jean was redecorating his home. Since he had discovered the furniture of Gustav Stickley, these now iconic chairs no longer fit the space. She remembers walking the chairs to her apartment on Ludlow Street.

Finally, there are the photographs — images that capture Jean exactly as she remembers him.

The complete collection can be found here online. The auction will be hosted on September 27th at Wright, Chicago. All lots will be on view at 1440 West Hubbard Street starting September 20th; gallery hours are 10 am — 5 pm Monday — through Friday or by appointment.