Noho’s former mental health center for homeless women is mid-conversion into retail space at the hands of developer Aby Rosen, and with the rebuff of the 1913 building has come a few surprises. Billy Schon, who runs the blog and Instagram handle Fresh Paint NYC, has discovered what just may be a remnant of Jean-Michel Basquiat’s street art days on the building at the corner of Lafayette and Bond streets.
The faded and aged tag appears to be the work of SAMO, the street art duo of Basquiat and art school pal Al Diaz who were active in the late 1970s. The faded tag fits the bill, beginning with SAMO©... and following with a political message. The tag on 350 Lafayette (now known as the more ritzy sounding 11 Bond Street) appears to read, “SAMO© ... AS AN END TO MIND-WASH RELIGIONS POLITICS AND BOGUS PHILOSOPHY.”
It doesn’t seem so far-fetched that the tag just might be original. Basquiat was a frequenter of the area, and would go on to live and work in a nearby Great Jones Street loft from 1983 through 1988. Diaz, reached by Schon, didn’t remember painting the work, leading Schon to believe that it was in fact a tag by the late artist. The work was found under several layers of graffiti and is extremely faded, as a video by Schon shows.
The building’s restoration has also surfaced what appears to be an original tag by DONDI, the late graffiti artist who Mass Appeal calls “one of the greatest graffiti writers to ever come out of New York City” (h/t EV Grieve).
This isn’t Rosen’s first brush with a building featuring important works of graffiti. The RFR Realty head honcho purchased the historic Germania Bank Building at 190 Bowery in 2014, at the time the private residence of photographer Jay Maisel and family, for conversion into retail and office space.
The building was another downtown graffiti Mecca, with works by hundreds of artists, most notably NEKST. The prominent tag by the late artist was the only one to survive the building’s exterior restoration. (Reminder: Rosen is an avid art collector, with a collection including works by Andy Warhol, Damien Hirst, and ... Jean-Michel Basquiat.)
Whether or not that will lead Rosen to maintain the tag on the Bond Street building is unclear, but it doesn’t seem promising. In an epic 2015 roast of a profile by Emma Allen for The New Yorker, Rosen said the graffiti of 190 Bowery “gives the building some sort of aura, some sort of cachet” but didn’t commit to keeping the art in place: “Once the building is finished, who knows? I mean, graffiti is nice, like the gritty seventies of New York. But let's be honest—those days are gone.”