Basquiat show was perfect opener at Brant

BY BOB KRASNER | The Brant Foundation has settled into the East Village with a splash. A beautifully renovated former Con Edison substation at 421 E. Sixth St. is the second location for the foundation’s private museum, the first being a repurposed stone barn in Greenwich, Connecticut.

The museum estimates that when its inaugural East Village show — a Jean-Michel Basquiat survey — closes on May 15, more than 100,000 people will have seen it. The initial block of 50,000 tickets — issued for free through its Web site — were snatched up before the show opened, and more were provided later.

The Brant Foundation is located in a former Con Ed building on E. Sixth St. (Photo by Bob Krasner)

Schools, museums and other nonprofit groups came through on days when the museum was closed to the public, and East Village residents were let in without tickets if they provided proof of residence.

Peter Brant, founder of The Brant Foundation Art Study Center, stated via e-mail that, “Basquiat has been a cornerstone of the East Village art scene for decades. So to bring his work back to the neighborhood that inspired it is a great privilege — as is to share his legacy with the community that was fundamental in shaping it.”

There was little doubt that the show would be a success. Basquiat, who lived and worked on Great Jones St. and died there at age 27, has become a legend. His paintings are coveted blue-chip items. One particularly notable sale was an untitled painting on canvas that went at Sotheby’s for more than $100 million. The Brant exhibit — a smaller version of a show in Paris — features 71 works. Included are some, like “Hollywood Africans,” on loan from the Whitney, that were not seen abroad.

(Photo by Bob Krasner)

The show is deserving of its accolades and the diversity of the crowd attests to the breadth of the artist’s popularity. Fashionable couples took the opportunity to pose for Instagram posts in front of the artwork, elderly women discussed composition and color, while kids related to the artist’s wild style.

“I think it’s really cool — abstract and crazy!” remarked Sadie, 10.

(Photo by Bob Krasner)

Her friend Chloe, also 10, agreed about the cool factor.

“It looks like there could be more in some of the paintings — they look like they are not finished,” she noted.

Former rapper and model Grege Morris mused on the subtext of the paintings.

“I’m getting a lot of spiritual feeling from his work,” she said. “I understand why people relate to him.”

A fourth-floor skylight features running water on top of it. (Photo by Bob Krasner)

Her cousin, Myles Morris, remarked on the dichotomy between style and substance.

“He composed his paintings like he was 130 years old, but he painted with a child’s voice,” he said. “That’s hard to do.”

Morris also noted that the price tags on Basquiat’s work have become a symbol of the neighborhood’s gentrification.

(Photo by Bob Krasner)

But even if you can’t afford the real thing, there’s always the gift shop — soon to open online, as well. People were snatching up the most popular items — $100 hoodies — as well as socks, notecards, clipboards and even yoga mats.

“Basquiat would have been O.K. with that,” noted art dealer Patrick Fox. “He was friends with Haring and Warhol, after all.”

Fox, who knew the artist well enough to have spent a night making ice cream with him, found the show “incredible.”

(Photo by Bob Krasner)

“It is a little bombastic, which was to be expected,” he said. “I’ve seen it a few times already, and the first time through I was crying in the stairwell.”

It’s hard not to be affected by the exuberance of the work, which fills the space with energy. Geraldo, a security guard on the fourth floor, gets plenty of feedback from the museumgoers.

“They love it !” he said. “The reactions are priceless.”

(Photo by Bob Krasner)

The next show at the new museum has not been announced, but Basquiat is going to be a tough act to follow. As actor Michael Donaldson summed up, “It’s a brilliant exhibition in a perfect space.”

For more information, visit www.brantfoundation.org .

(Photo by Bob Krasner)

 

(Photo by Bob Krasner)

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