Ghost-Hunting Basquiat in His Old East Village Apartment

March 28, 2013 | Marina Galperina

“We lived together. I wouldn’t really call him my boyfriend. We did have relations but I don’t think that time was about girlfriends and boyfriends. We had multiple girlfriends and boyfriends. Sorry!”

Alexis Adler is laughing. Yesterday, ArtInfo reported that Jean-Michel Basquiat’s “ex-girlfriend” had been hiding a trove of previously-unseen artifacts for thirty years in the apartment they shared in 1979-80, the apartment she lives in now. The NYU embryologist was surprised by the avalanche of non-art media piling at her doorstep. They all want to see a mural, a radiator and a door. We saw it. You’ll see it when one of the eager high-profile dealers figures out how to price it, when Sara Driver makes the documentary, when Luc Sante writes text for the book, when Lisa Rosen cuts out the part of the bedroom wall that says “OLIVE OYL.” What we can show you is art you can’t see. This is “art that doesn’t exist.”

Adler shows us photos and unscanned slides of Basquiat playing a clarinet in their bathroom, Basquiat painting and Basquiat’s assemblages of suitcases he found in the street, filled and painted. These are beautiful. “Were these exhibited somewhere?” I ask. “Yes. On the floor right here.” It’s definitely not the original floor.

Adler also has drawings and collages (“He was still finding his style”), a notebook (“It’s not here”) and clothes painted by Basquiat, like the shirt she wore to his blockbuster Gagosian exhibit and a gold coat. She lets us videotape her shiny measured twirl, recalling with delight how the coat was a present from a girl friend that she, Basquiat and another young woman crashed with until they were kicked out.

“A couple of mornings later I wake up and it’s painted. Like everything else.” Like the wall. The corner of the floor. The radiator and door. “I accepted that.”

The metal shell of the radiator inscribed with “MILK” is installed to hang on the brick wall. So is the litte blue door painted with his crown, a car, a cross/heart and “FAMOUS NEGRO ATHLETES.” It does not match the renovated apartment. The light here is nice. It must have been nice to paint by, thirty years ago, when this stretch of East Village was a scorched, half-vacant wilderness, when Adler and Basquiat spent every night out at the Mudd Club, when you didn’t have cellphones and people would shout your name and you’d throw your keys down and they’d come up and party. And party.

We had to buzz up and snake past the New York Post reporters perched by the building. “What would the Post possibly want to say about this?” Alexis shakes her head. Sotheby’s calls. She didn’t expect all this, she says. She shows us more photos. “I feel that they express a lot about Jean. I feel them.” (Video and photos: Aymann Ismail/ANIMALNewYork with the permission of Alexis Adler)