Thirty years ago NYU biology professor Alexis Adler was a college student who shared an apartment in downtown New York City with her then-unknown artist boyfriend who loved painting everything in sight. Walls. Appliances. Clothes. Everything. His name was Jean-Michel Basquiat. Yes, that Jean-Michel Basquiat.
Wisely, Adler bought the apartment they used to share and never painted over the works. She also saved everything he left behind — notebooks, photographs, etc. — and has since just been sitting on it all, a literal treasure trove of art and art collectables. But with his art selling at record prices these days, she’s decided to put some of the stuff on the market.
Reports Art Info:
In 1979, the still unknown artist began transforming his girlfriend Alexis Adler’s East Village home into just such a living installation, covering one wall in a glyph-like mural that reads “Olive Oyl,” painting crowns and “Famous Negro Athletes” on a door, and the word “Milk” on a radiator. Although the couple broke up a year later, and Basquiat died in 1988, Adler, now an embryologist at New York University, bought the apartment they once shared and never painted over his work.
Obviously that turned out to be a wise decision — as was storing his notebooks, postcards, painted clothes, photographs, and drawings on yellow legal paper. Thirty years later, Adler has now begun to assemble a team of advisors to help sort through the material in preparation for a book on the collection and, in all likelihood, an exhibition and sale. “Part of the issue has been that I am a working biologist who has raised two kids on my own and have not had time or energy to deal with it,” Adler said. “Now is the time, however.”
Adler has enlisted Basquiat’s former assistant, Stephen Torton, to represent her in future sales, and she already has interest from filmmaker Sara Driver and art critic Luc Sante, a college friend of Adler’s who’s a good candidate to write an essay for the upcoming book. Fine Art Restoration’s Lisa Rosen is refurbishing and removing the wall, and former Gracie Mansion gallery director Sur Rodney Sur has catalogued the 65 or so items in the collection.
“The thing that’s most interesting is the material she has to support the actual artwork,” Sur said. Apart from the paintings and drawings, Adler has a script for a play Basquiat wrote and some 50 rolls of 35mm film documenting the artist at work, modeling his painted clothes, and just going about everyday life (back when he still sported a shaved head). “A lot of the signage he used in his work over and over again, this was when he was developing it. The idea that it’s all together in one place makes it even more important.”
For instance, Sur credits Basquiat’s sometime depiction of scientific formulas and compounds to his time with Adler, who was a biology student in those days. He said Basquiat was fascinated by her textbooks and copied much of the imagery.
You just know that there are probably other girls out there who dated Basquiat who are probably kicking themselves hard over painting over the painting he made on her fridge way back when.