Back in 2014, rumors began circulating that the Brant Foundation had purchased 419 East 6th Street—the four-story building that had housed conceptual artist Walter De Maria‘s home and studio since the mid-’80s. Its origins, however, underline its strange, slender figure and the 16,000-square-feet space within; it was constructed as a Con Edison substation back in 1920. As recent renovations commenced—and the rare private event was held—interest over the goings-on percolated through the East Village. On 6 March, all will be revealed to the public as doors open on Jean-Michel Basquiat, the inaugural exhibition of The Brant Foundation Art Study Center in New York City (an extension of the organization’s efforts in Greenwich, Connecticut). Here, Basquiat’s work explodes from its carefully considered positions along the walls. Remarkably, it’s an exhibition worthy of the radical artist and space.
To achieve a retrospective of this magnitude, the Brant Foundation tapped not only their own private collection but also many others. Museum-quality works were also loaned to the show. Among the selection—curated by Dr Dieter Buchhart, who worked alongside the Fondation Louis Vuitton—some of Basquiat’s most recognizable works (including 1984’s multi-paneled “Grillo”) rise with rarities drawn from years of paintings and drawings. With the Brant Foundation’s clout, this exhibition delivers a Basquiat tasting menu that highlights both nuance and power.
“It has been a privilege to reconnect Jean-Michel Basquiat back to the East Village—a neighborhood that he lived in, worked in, and that inspired him—for this expansive solo exhibition of his works,” Allison Brant, Director of The Brant Foundation, explains to us. “Basquiat remains unparalleled in his ability to draw from the world around him and form complex and remarkable artworks that continue to be relevant even today, and we are incredibly excited to share his work with New York once again.”
A visit to the exhibit starts on the fourth floor. By way of an anchor stairwell that feels like a relic of the building’s origin (or through the elevator), guests access and confront each level of the Basquiat works. The 7,000-square-feet of exhibition space offers moment after moment of curatorial splendor. From dappled sunbeams through a skylight doubling as a shallow pool, to one of Basquiat’s skylines placed beside a Rear Window-view of the neighborhood, moments designed to enhance the experience succeed—sometimes with subtlety, other times with grandeur. Meanwhile, every floor offers access to tablets, allowing visitors to dig deeper into the works.
Richard Gluckman, of Gluckman Tang Architects, oversaw the renovation of the space—which included a landscaped roof and side gardens. There’s a cleanliness to it all. He scrubbed the building down to its bones. And while that may not feel like a natural fit to the East Village of Basquiat’s time, it does coincide with the neighborhood today. That said, the Brant Foundation is the first institution of its kind there, and this debut honors a building that’s history may otherwise have been lost.
Jean-Michel Basquiat run 6 March through 15 May 15 at 421 East 6th Street. Admission is free, but tickets must be reserved in advance. For sold-out dates, it is recommended that one joins the waitlist. A limited number of same-day standby tickets will be issued on a first come, first serve basis.
Hero image by Tom Powel Imaging, Copyright Estate of Jean-Michel Basquiat. Licensed by Artestar, New York. Courtesy The Brant Foundation.