mercer street

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Now and Then New York #19

  • Now: December 4, 2016
  • Now and Then Overlay
  • Then: September 14, 1985

We’re here on the west side of Mercer Street looking north toward West Houston. When I first eyeballed photographer Ricky Powell’s snapshot of Jean-Michel Basquiat and Andy Warhol here I was pulled to the spot. Thanks to the creation of the Soho-Cast Iron Historic District in 1973, most of the landscape details are still intact and help conjure up the artists again. 

Speaking with George Leonidou in a post to 1981.nyc called “Homeboy Throw In The Towel…This Interview’s With Ricky Powell,” Powell remembered the genesis of his image like this:

Went to this fuckin’ Basquiat and Warhol show and I ended up taking pictures of one of my favorite graffiti dynamic duos ZEPHYR and REVOLT across the street while waiting for Warhol and Basquiat to come to this thing. We’re looking at the whole crowd outside of Tony Shafrazi Gallery on Mercer Street, and you see ‘em coming, so I said hold up. Loped across Mercer Street to Warhol and Baquiat as they were approaching from Houston Street going south, with the crowd behind me. I kind of did, y’know, a little passing route in between them and them. So I stopped [Basquiat and Warhol], and said, “Yo, you mind if I get a flick?” Basquiat says to Warhol, “Yeah, he’s cool.” They posed for me and I took that flick of them. I said thanks and they walked on. I then walked back to ZEPHYR and you see the crowd go bananas on them. I went and ZEPHYR and REVOLT were like, “ Oh shit.”

I’d probably have used the “Oh shit” line too after that experience!

Now Tony Shafrazi’s gallery was located at 163 Mercer, just behind Powell’s camera set up. In 1985 from September 14th to October 19th, Shafrazi and art dealer Bruno Bischofberger produced an exhibition of 16 collaborations between the two artists there dubbed “Warhol & Basquiat: Paintings.” Although Powell doesn’t cite an exact date for his photo, I place it on the first night of the feature: September 14th. Let me explain.

In his book Jean-Michel Basquiat: A Biography [2010], Eric Fretz described the showcase at Shafrazi’s like this:

On September 14, 1985, when Warhol arrived at the opening by cab, he found the gallery packed. A doorman was needed to police the crowd that was spilled out onto Mercer Street, where idling limousines waited.

So Fretz establishes the date Warhol was there, but how about Basquiat? Well, his report continued with this:

Basquiat, wearing a shimmering blue shirt and his hair tucked into his hat, seemed to enjoy the buzz. But he did not talk to Warhol at the opening and was conspicuously absent from the night’s dinner party at his favorite restaurant, Mr. Chow’s.

In Powell’s shot, the painter is both sporting that “shimmering blue shirt” and also has “his hair tucked into his hat,” so the 14th has to be right. But to assuage my unusually skeptical conscience, let’s consult another source.

In The Andy Warhol Diaries [1989] edited by Pat Hackett, part of Warhol’s entry for September 14, 1985 contained this passage:

Called Jean Michel and said I’d pick him up and did. Went over to the Tony Shafrazi Gallery (cab $5) and it was wall to wall. I was wearing the Stefano jacket with Jean Michel’s picture painted on the back, but I’ve decided I can’t wear odd things, I look like a weirdo. I’m going to stay in basic black.

Again, in Powell’s print, Warhol is wearing the jacket with one of Basquiat’s face drawings that made him feel “like a weirdo.” (Haha! Sorry, I can’t get over his admission.) Anyway, although Fretz and Warhol’s recollections seem to be at odds over how the two artists connected at Mercer Street, this much is true: Basquiat and Warhol were side by side for their close up on September 14, 1985.

But wait! How did people respond to the show? Well, check out a fragment of what New York Times reviewer Vivien Raynor conveyed on September 20, 1985:

LAST year, I wrote of Jean-Michel Basquiat that he had a chance of becoming a very good painter providing he didn’t succumb to the forces that would make him an art world mascot. This year, it appears that those forces have prevailed, for Basquiat is now onstage at the Tony Shafrazi Gallery…doing a pas de deux with Andy Warhol, a mentor who assisted in his rise to fame.

Actually, it’s a version of the Oedipus story: Warhol, one of Pop’s pops, paints, say, General Electric’s logo, a New York Post headline or his own image of dentures; his 25-year-old protege adds to or subtracts from it with his more or less expressionistic imagery….

But here and now, the collaboration looks like one of Warhol’s manipulations, which increasingly seem based on the Mencken theory about nobody going broke underestimating the public’s intelligence. Basquiat, meanwhile, comes across as the all too willing accessory.

Offered in the same spirit as the show’s poster featuring photographs of the artists dressed as boxers at the ready, the verdict is: “Warhol, TKO in 16 rounds.”

Wow. I wonder how Basquait took that “art world mascot” taxonomy. In an entry dated Thursday, September 19, 1985, however, we do know how Warhol reacted to the label as he confided this to his diary:

When we were at the Odeon I asked for the paper, and there in Friday’s Times I saw a big headline: “Basquiat and Warhol in Pas de Deux.” And I just read one line–that Jean Michel was my “mascot." 

Oh God.

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Found my new apartment  🌃

I fiiiinally found my new home :)) Rent is little higher than I planned to pay but I looove this place…and ofc it’s in SoHo, still at the Mercer street :)) Great thing is that apartment is already furnished, I just need to bring my deco/clutter/personal stuff…so if anyone wants to buy bed, sofa etc. can contact me…ahahah

i’m so happy right now!:))

idfc part ii: a college au

read part i

If everyone was like Shaw, the world would be a perfect place. Maybe with a slight spike in homicide rates, but besides that, everyone would be on the same page and Shaw wouldn’t have to face the fact that, sooner or later, Root was going to start digging her nails in like claws and beg, and not in the fun way.”

read on ao3 here
cw: alcohol use and drug mention.
rated M.
4k+words

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