The EBD team found themselves filling their brains with art and culture again, this time at MCA Denver for the Basquiat Before Basquiat: East 12th Street, 1979-1980, and the Ryan McGinley: The Kids Were Alright exhibitions.

We were lucky to have Nora Burnett Abrams, MCA’s Associate Curator, and Michael McNeill, MCA’s Development Director, take us through the exhibitions.

Nora writes in her overview of the Basquiat exhibit, “Basquiat Before Basquiat: East 12th Street, 1979-1980 includes the entire cache of works made by Jean-Michel Basquiat during the year he lived with his friend Alexis Adler in a small apartment in the East Village. This archival material provides rare insight into the artistic life of Basquiat before he was recognized as a prominent painter in the early 1980s. While living in this apartment, Basquiat’s creative impulses moved fluidly from his SAMO tags on the surrounding streets and neighborhood into a more sustained practice in their shared home. Through paintings, sculpture, works on paper, a notebook, and other ephemera, as well as Adler’s numerous photographs from this period, this exhibition explores how the context of life in New York informed and formed Basquiat’s artistic practice.


As Adler notes, “From mid-1979 to mid-1980, I lived with Jean in three different apartments, but for most of that time in an apartment that we moved into and shared on East 12th St. This was a time before Jean had canvases to work with, so he used whatever he could get his hands on, as he was constantly creating. The derelict streets of the East Village provided his raw materials and he would bring his finds up the six flights of stairs to incorporate into his art. Jean was able to make money for paint and his share of the rent, which was $80 a month, by selling sweatshirts on the street. He knew that he was a great artist.”


The exhibition and book present New York City in the late 1970s and early 1980s through the prism of Jean-Michel Basquiat’s art and provide a window into the art-rich time that he emerged from as well as impacted so profoundly. It will sharpen and deepen our understanding of this artist at a vital yet mostly unknown, or at least under-discussed, moment of his career. Ultimately, this exhibition will attest to Basquiat’s virtuosity in formation—the creative impulses that yielded a distinctive voice, but also the many diversions or paths he explored as he was developing a signature style.”

Basquiat Before Basquiat: East 12th Street, 1979-1980 is now closed.

Nora writes, “Ryan McGinley: The Kids Were Alright features early photographs by McGinley, whose pioneering, documentary-style approach captured the antics and daily activities of himself, his friends, and collaborators in lower Manhattan in the late 1990s…


The photographs present intimate moments of both exhilaration and introspection, often within a mundane setting, and demonstrate a sweeping range of emotions. McGinley’s works capture the essence of his lifestyle at the time: gritty, daring, and focused on moments of both pleasure and tedium, as well as illicit activities. Unstaged and unedited, McGinley’s use of light imbues all of the works with an intensity and profound emotional depth. They may depict a figure as brooding and contemplative or bursting with joyful exuberance. McGinley’s photos and Polaroids continually elevate these everyday moments and allow them to pulsate with life.


A rare instance of the artist re-examining his earliest major body of work, the exhibition features many never-before-printed images. Over 1,500 of McGinley’s Polaroids, which have never before been exhibited, wrap the museum’s second floor. For this series, he documented nearly every visitor to his home and studio over the course of four years.”


McGinley is showing through August 20th, don’t miss it!

There’s also a book of the show available:

Ryan will be at the MCA the weekend of July 7-8 for a book signing and will be taking polaroids of anyone who purchases a book! Find out more at

See the following articles from the Times about the exhibits that include a great video with Alexis on the Basquiat show, and some additional images from the McGinley show:

The MCA recently launched their new app, a huge technological advance for them which features audio tours and bonus tidbits from Nora and our friends at the museum:

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