The Brant Foundation’s show, organized in collaboration with the Fondation Louis Vuitton in Paris, presents an expansive survey of Jean-Michel Basquiat’s oeuvre. Photo: Tom Powel Imaging, Copyright Estate of Jean-Michel Basquiat. Licensed by Artestar, New York. Courtesy The Brant Foundation
Brant Foundation Opens Its New Manhattan Space with a Basquiat Bang
The East Village edifice—a former power substation and studio of contemporary artist Walter De Maria—was renovated by architects Gluckman Tang
By Liddy Berman, Architectural Digest
February 28, 2019
“[Jean-Michel] Basquiat did most of his painting in a ten-block radius of here,” says the founder of the Brant Foundation, Peter Brant, gesturing out the large plate glass windows of the foundation’s new East Village space. “We wanted to give the audience an opportunity to see the best of Basquiat’s work in the right setting. You can look at Untitled (Blue Airplane), and see the same buildings that Basquiat painted through the window behind it.”
The Foundation’s new building, a former power substation on East 6th Street that was once the studio of contemporary artist Walter De Maria and was recently renovated by architects Gluckman Tang, is, indeed, the proper setting. “A lot of research was done to create the moment you experience when you enter the show’s second floor,” Foundation director Allison Brant adds.
This research paid off handsomely—the show, and the space, offer a breathtaking view into the artist’s world, underscoring a resonance between the artworks and their location that brings a new layer of meaning to our understanding of Jean-Michel Basquiat.
The show, organized in collaboration with the Fondation Louis Vuitton in Paris, presents an expansive survey of Basquiat’s oeuvre. The exhibition drew over 600,000 visitors during its Paris run. “In bringing this show here, we had a different responsibility,” comments curator Dieter Buchhart. About 60 percent of the works on view here were in the Paris show, giving Buchhart and the Brants the ability to add major loans from New York’s biggest art collectors and museums, including the Whitney Museum’s iconic Hollywood Africans.
“We wanted to mark this moment of change in Basquiat’s work with the stretcher wall: the moment when Basquiat returned to the normal surface of the canvas and expanded it in a rough, raw way,” Buchhart says, referencing the unprecedented installation of 16 stretcher bar paintings that the artist created in 1982. “His work has such an influence on youth culture today. The way he used words, the way he made connections—he connected this time to the past, looking back from ancient history as well as forward into the future. Timeless.”
This sense of timelessness is also reflected in Gluckman Tang’s careful renovation of the Foundation’s new building. “Our efforts were one part restoration and one part contemporary innovation,” says the firm’s Richard Gluckman, who has been familiar with the building for years. “Walter De Maria used to call me when he had problems—pipes bursting or insulation needing replacement,” he continues. “It was important to me to be respectful of the original building yet also to create subtle, nuanced innovations: to bring in natural light and open the ground floor up to the garden.”
Indeed, light shines through everywhere, from the fourth-floor skylight that doubles as the rooftop garden’s water feature, to the massive wall of windows installed at the back of the third floor that look onto an impressive panorama of Manhattan—and even in the sliver of window in the elevator that provides visitors with shafts of light and glimpses of artworks as they ascend and descend through the show.
“The show isn’t organized chronologically,” says Allison Brant. “Instead we focused on what works together, on making connections. We wanted to show the most important works, from drawings on paper to masterpieces. We wanted to create an exhibition what was really going to connect to this neighborhood and create an opportunity to bring Basquiat to this audience.”
The exhibition is Basquiat in all his glory. With 70 works spanning the artist’s career from ages 19 to 26, just prior to his tragic death at 27, it illustrates why Basquiat’s work resonates so much today. “Basquiat was radical and yet also respectful of the past. He was a poet and a philosopher at the same time,” comments Peter Brant. Works like Warrior, Untitled, 1982, Untitled (Tenant), Gold Griot, and Arroz con Pollo, exemplify the vast scope of the artist’s viewpoint. They are at once intensely personal, yet also rich with historical references and meaning. He walked the impossible tightrope between being firmly grounded in his time and broadly focused on the millennia of history.
The juxtaposition of these works with others focused on Basquiat’s heroes and role models—the people who shaped his identity—is particularly meaningful. Anthony Clarke, Untitled (Sugar Ray Robinson), St. Joe Louis Surrounded by Snakes, Charles the First, and Cassius Clay, point up the artist’s investment in building up his own historical canon and draw parallels with contemporary issues of racial injustice.
The show runs at the Brant Foundation New York from March 6 through May 15. Free tickets can be booked online, and a limited number of same-day standby tickets will be given out on a first come, first served basis.