Before Jay-Z was letting his daughter, Blue Ivy Carter, lean on one of his paintings, or before Uniqlo started selling T-Shirts of his designs, Jean-Michel Basquiat was just another artist in the Greenwich Village, trying to make a living. He lived on 57 Great Jones Street, in a small building that once belonged to Andy Warhol.
Today, the small building that once housed one of the most popular artists in the world is now a Japanese restaurant. Thousands of people walk by it everyday, unaware of the history and stories that this small building in NoHo has within its walls. Now, people will no longer be unaware, because on July 13th, The Greenwich Village Society for Historic Preservation unveiled a plaque near the front door of the loft building not only with Basquiat’s name, but with a few words describing what the late artist, who died in 1988, meant to the neighborhood.
Phil Hartman, owner of Two Boots Pizza
The spontaneous and remarkably creative Basquiat was famous for “expressing and juxtaposing conflicting qualities in his work.” He frequently focused on depicting dichotomies such as wealth and poverty, inner and outer, as well as social justice issues. He led a turbulent life, running away from home at the age of 15 and sleeping in Washington Square Park.
The unveiling ceremony, which took place at 6 pm, was meant to “celebrate and explore the invaluable work and local connections of this essential artist,” according to The Greenwich Village Society for Historical Preservation in an announcement of the event.
The short event featured speeches from Phil Hartman, owner of Two Boots Pizza and the Great Jones Cafe, where Basquiat tried to pay for a one dollar Rolling Rock with a $100 dollar bill. Other speakers included friends of Basquiat along with young students and poets who grew up idolizing him. At the end of the event, a spectator yelled out “this should be a landmark,” to which Lannyl Stephens, Director of Development and Special Events for the Greenwich Village Society for Historic Preservation said on the mic, “we’re trying.”
Next, read Jean-Michel Basquiat at the Gagosian: A Brief Spark of Savage Genius. To contact the author, find him on twitter @ChrisLInoa.