Angelina Jolie Turned Basquiat’s Last Home into a Boutique

It could’ve been made into a museum but friends of the artist are mostly just glad it’s not a McDonald’s.

Angelina Jolie Turned Basquiat’s Last Home into a Boutique

The exterior of 57 Great Jones Street in Manhattan, New York. Photo: J. Scott Orr.

Angelina Jolie’s takeover of the East Village building where neo-expressionist giant Jean-Michel Basquiat lived, worked and died is now complete. The Civil War-era structure has been remade to house Atelier Jolie, an artsy enterprise where custom t-shirts are made, espresso is served, and high-fashion articles carry price tags with commas in them.

In a series of interviews with former Basquiat intimates and others, the reactions to the arrival of Atelie Jolie, which opened on 4 December 2023, were nearly identical: It’s not the sweeping homage to one of the 20th century’s most important artists that it could be, but neither is it a Starbucks.

Atelier Jolie. Photo: J. Scott Orr.

Atelier Jolie. Photo: J. Scott Orr.

Number 57 Great Jones Street was built in the 1860s as a stable and was later taken over by mobster Paul Kelly, who led the infamous Five Points Gang. Andy Warhol bought the 613-square-metre, two-storey structure in 1970 and leased it to Basquiat, who lived and worked there from 1983 until his death in 1988.

Al Diaz, who partnered with Basquiat in the graffiti duo SAMO©, lunched with Jolie recently. He explained to the actor and humanitarian that the SAMO© graffiti uncovered during the renovations was not created by Basquiat but by Diaz as part of an exhibit of his own work that took place there in 2018.

Angelina Jolie and Al Diaz on their way to lunch on Great Jones Street.

Angelina Jolie and Al Diaz on their way to lunch on Great Jones Street. Courtesy Al Diaz.

‘She was nice enough,’ Diaz said. ‘They discovered the graffiti and wanted to know the backstory. I don’t know what Jean-Michel would think about what’s going on there now, he probably couldn’t care less.’

Noted portrait photographer Richard Corman, who created the last great portraits of Basquiat in the space for L’Uomo Vogue in 1984, had mixed feelings about its current use.

‘Should it be an homage to Basquiat? It sat there for a while, so it could have been anything. And Angelina’s an artist so…it’s not a Chase Bank,’ he said.

Items for sale at Atelier Jolie. Photo: J. Scott Orr.

Items for sale at Atelier Jolie. Photo: J. Scott Orr.

Alexis Adler, a girlfriend who lived with Basquiat in the early 80s, said ‘It’s still associated with him and the art he made there. It could be like a McDonald’s or something like that that would have no association with him. Hopefully [Jolie] understands that she’s in this important space and maybe it will pay homage to him in some way.’

Art historian and Basquiat scholar Dieter Buchhart went a little further, suggesting that there are far better ways to protect Basquiat’s legacy than turning his last home and studio into a high-fashion boutique.

A T-shirt-making station at 57 Great Jones Street. Photo: J. Scott Orr.

A T-shirt-making station at 57 Great Jones Street. Photo: J. Scott Orr.

‘There have been much less important artists given museums. …This space, this Great Jones Street, is the one connection with the city, with Warhol, with everything. I think that should be really respected,’ he said.

Patti Astor, who ran Fun Gallery, the East Village space where Basquiat, Keith Haring, and other greats of the era were shown, had similar feelings. ‘We’re gonna have to accept the past is the past. I’m sure that everyone would like to see a tribute to him, but who knows what that’s gonna look like. I’ll kind of just wait and see,’ she said. —[O]

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