Brant Foundation’s New East Village Space Brings Basquiat Back to His Roots

Alina Cohen
Mar 1, 2019 10:03PM

The Brant Foundation at 421 East 6th Street, New York. Courtesy of The Brant Foundation.

Jean-Michel Basquiat, In Italian, 1983. © Estate of Jean Michel Basquiat. Licensed by Artestar, New York. Courtesy of The Brant Foundation.

Yesterday morning, on a quiet block of East 6th Street in New York, just past First Avenue, publishing magnate Peter Brant opened the Brant Foundation—a 16,000-square-foot art center—with a major show of 70 works by Jean-Michel Basquiat.

The East Village building, located at 421 East 6th Street, has a prominent artistic lineage of its own. While the New York energy company Consolidated Edison (better known these days as ConEd) owned it for most of the 20th century, in the 1980s, New York–based artist (and former Lou Reed band member) Walter De Maria purchased the four-story property. De Maria made it his home and studio, where he lived and worked until his 2013 death. Brant bought it in 2014 for $27 million.


During renovations since then, architect Richard Gluckman and his team at Gluckman Tang Architects developed 7,000 square feet devoted to exhibition space, added two adjacent gardens, and created a rooftop patio with a transparent pool that also serves as a skylight. Concrete floors and white walls evoke Chelsea gallery spaces, while architectural flourishes like light brick and wood hint at the building’s history.

For the inaugural show, the Brant Foundation (helmed by Peter’s daughter Allison Brant) mounted “Jean-Michel Basquiat,” an exhibition of 70 paintings and works on paper by the late East Village artist, who rose to prominence in the early 1980s.

Jean-Michel Basquiat, Boy and Dog in a Johnnypump, 1982. © Estate of Jean Michel Basquiat. Licensed by Artestar, New York. Courtesy of The Brant Foundation.

At the opening, curator Dieter Buchhart—a leading Basquiat scholar—underscored ideas about race and identity in the artist’s canvases. “He rips off the flesh and shows what’s below,” Buchhart said. “He was under enormous pressures, facing racists everyday. He couldn’t hail a cab.”

The exhibition, which sprawls across four sunlit, high-ceilinged floors, is an iteration of the massive, 120-painting Basquiat show that recently closed at Paris’s Fondation Louis Vuitton in January. Artworks hail from Brant’s own holdings, in addition to a number of other prominent collections. Among the pieces on view is Eli and Edythe Broad’s untitled 1981 work that depicts a massive skull with lines like train tracks running throughout. (Buchhart said the work is still ultimately “all about the line.”)

The Whitney Museum of American Art loaned the work Hollywood Africans (1983). With the words “seven stars,” “movie star,” “gangsterism,” and the titular phrase spread across the canvas in Basquiat’s signature scrawl, the painting—acknowledging fame, film, and race—feels particularly poignant in the week after Spike Lee’s BlacKkKlansman lost Best Picture at the Oscars to Green Book.

The Basquiat exhibition will be on view at the Brant Foundation through May. And although entry is free, visitors must book tickets in advance online—and the show is already sold out (though you can join a waitlist). The space is the second brick-and-mortar outpost for the Brant Foundation, which opened its original space in Greenwich, Connecticut, in 2009. Located next to a polo field, the regal stone structure has since hosted exhibitions of work by Julian Schnabel, Andy Warhol, Karen Kilimnik, and—at its high profile, semi-annual openings—guests including Leonardo di Caprio, Fran Lebowitz, and Christopher Walken.

Alina Cohen
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