American Cool is the name of the current exhibition at Smithsonian's National Portrait Gallery in Washington, DC. My photograph of Jean-Michel Basquiat is included in the exhibition. The photograph was acquired by the National Portrait Gallery for their permanent collection in 2010.
I first saw Jean-Michel Basquiat one summer's day in 1986 sitting on the iron steps of Dean and DeLuca on Prince Street in Soho. He was sitting in way not unlike the pose he adopted in this photograph. He was eating Devonshire Cream with a spoon straight from the bottle.
I took this photograph some months later in his studio on Great Jones Street. When I arrived his assistant said, "He's upstairs getting ready; if you wouldn't mind waiting?” Murmuring voices and laughter, male and female, drifted down the stairs and I welcomed the time to look for a background.
It only took me five or ten minutes to decide on one. I prepared my camera and sat down. After half-an-hour I heard footsteps on the stairs and my spirits rose. It was his assistant. “Oh good, you are still here,” he said, “He won't keep you a moment.” I thanked him and he went back upstairs. I resumed listening to the chatter. Five minutes turned into ten, then twenty and then thirty. An hour past. I was getting hungry. Then I heard footsteps again, different ones this time. Jean-Michel appeared, smiled and asked, “Where would you like me?”
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