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Basquiat’s Loft 1970

by Jean-Michel Basquiat, 1960-1988

57 Great Jones is another place—like the Sunshine Hotel and Amato Opera—that is easily missed, a graffiti-tagged building that still stands despite the constant change going on around it. Originally constructed as a stable around the time of the Civil War, it was converted to a saloon and dance hall by the 1900s. That rowdy vibe must have lingered in the building when Andy Warhol bought it in 1970 because a few years later he rented out a studio and apartment to Jean-Michel Basquiat, who was known for his outgoing personality and partying lifestyle almost as much as his expressive art. Basquiat lived and even died in this building, and his legacy remains. Until recently, his initials could be seen on the mail slot, and references to his work can sometimes be found in the ever-changing graffiti.

Basquiat, who was originally from Brooklyn, dropped out of high school in the early 1970s and briefly worked as an electrician. he despised the way his well of clients treated him, so he left and tried to make ends meet by selling his art on t-shirts and postcards. He came from Haitian heritage, and he felt that the art world of the time was elitist and exclusively white males. His response was expressive and bold, casual seeming but poignantly smart work with loud colors and an in-your-face attitude.

During this time, he was also graffiting tags around the city, and that led to one of his most more famous acronyms. Anyone around New York in the 1970s would have seen the mark of Basquiat and his friend Al Diaz, SAMO (pronounced “same-oh”), tagged throughout lower Manhattan. While getting stoned one day, they came up with the word, short for “same old shit,” which started a reference to what they had been smoking but quickly grew into a statement on racism in art and society in general. In today’s terms, SAMO became somewhat of a graffiti hashtag, often followed by a commentary on a complaisant society such as “SAMO© SAVES IDIOTS AND GONZOIDS…”—and yes, the copyright symbol was usually included as well.

By the end of the 1970s, Basquiat and Diaz had a falling out, and the SAMO tags became “SAMO IS DEAD.” Shortly after, in the early 1980s, Basquiat broke through as a solo artist.

During this time, Basquiat hung out with a notorious crowd. He dated Madonna for a period and frequently partied with other artist colleagues and celebrities. He was a hard drug user and despite attempts in Hawaii to get clean, he overdosed at 57 Great Jones in 1988 at the age of 27. His girlfriend found him, and together with a friend they dragged him to the sidewalk. They called the ambulance, but it didn’t make it in time. The fatal concoction had been a speedball, a mixture of heroin and cocaine that also claimed the lives of Chris Farley, John Belushi, River Phoenix, and Philip Seymour Hoffman. Basquiat is buried in Brooklyn’s Green-Wood Cemetery.


1970 Housed bohemian Soho artists
1983 Andy Warhol rents out studio space to Jean-Michel Basquiat
1988 Jean-Michel Basquiat dies here of accidental drug overdose
1960 On December 22 Basquiat is born in Brooklyn

Reference Links

link Daytonian in Manhattan: 57 Great Jones
link Xaviant Haze - Basquiat, The Last Great American Artist
link Christie's Basquiat: From Samo to Soho to Stardom
link Jean-Michel Basquiat Biography
internal Wiki Jean-Michel Basquiat
internal Movie Jean-Michel Basquiat: The Radiant Child
internal Art Voice Magazine: Annina Nosai
internal gDoc