ARTS & CULTURE
09/20/2011 03:06 pm ET | Updated Nov 20, 2011

Jean-Michel Basquiat Painting On Drug Dealer's Door Debated

On a Saturday morning in the early summer of 1988, Jean-Michel Basquiat stepped through the doorway of a bodega on South 4th Street in Williamsburg. It was a tough neighborhood back then, before the condos and restaurants arrived, and the store was a drug front. Basquiat had been hitting it up every couple of days, likely because his Manhattan source had dried up. Word on the street was that if you knew where to go, the drugs were better in Brooklyn, and rock stars and other wealthier users were starting to make the quick trip over the bridge.

Nobody there knew who Basquiat was, but, at 27, he was as famous as he’d ever be during his lifetime. His paintings had reached a then-astronomical $50,000 apiece. The Whitney and MoMA had showed him. Celebrities like Paul Simon had bought his work. In person, though, he looked ragged. He was skinny and had open sores and swollen pimples on his face. He had about $300 in his hand, and he spoke softly when he asked for his usual: “Two bundles,” or twenty bags. The first few times, he’d sniffed the goods. When he’d introduced himself as “Michel,” the dealer told him he’d get his ass kicked with a girl’s name and said he’d call him “Mike.”

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