Noah's Art World: Adrien Brody, Marina Abramovic, Ben Stiller and the Search for a Pop-Up Gallery on the Bowery in NYC

Noah Becker (standing), with artist Alfredo Martinez, New York, NY. Photo by Nancy Smith.

By NOAH BECKER July, 2020

Artist Alfredo Martinez contacted me around 5 years ago in New York City. This was in more innocent times, no Trump, no pandemic. Most of the people I spoke to suggested I avoid Alfredo like the plague. I’m not one to follow the opinions of others too closely, so I met up with Alfredo and was interested in discussing the plans he had. It wasn’t like I didn’t already have info about Martinez. The late artist and writer Joe Heaps Nelson had already written an interview for Whitehot Magazine about the artist and I had met Alfredo in person at the now closed Amy Li gallery on Mott St. in New York’s Chinatown. 

View of Mott St. in New York City

The word on the street was that Alfredo Martinez is an art forger. In actual fact he went to jail for forging Basquiat drawings, paid for his crimes and is now a free man. My thought was, “everyone gets a second chance in America.” I wasn’t like other people, I could actually write about Alfredo and resurrect his reputation. This was mostly due to me liking him as a person and developing a friendship with Alfredo over time.

Alfredo wanted to meet at White Box gallery. The director there, Juan Puntes, had discussed mounting a group show and Alfredo wanted me to co-curate the show. So the show would feature around 20 artists and take up the massive space that White Box was occupying on the now razed block of Broome Street between Chrystie and Bowery on NYC’s Lower East Side.

Long story short, Juan ran into some trouble and had to back out of letting us use the gallery for the show. At this point I was extremely angry at Juan and Alfredo and was faced with a 24 hour window to find a new space. Alfredo and I went to discuss over lunch at Café Gitane near Mulberry Street in New York’s Little Italy. Eventually Juan made things right by generously inviting me to dinner at Marina Abramovic’s apartment. But I digress… 

Café Gitane, New York City.

During this panicked lunch with Alfredo at Café Gitane, I got so annoyed that I blew up. I stood up with such anger and force that I turned my chair over and ran out of the restaurant. I didn’t get far, I was maybe just around the corner and fuming. After a minute or so I realized the depth of my cruelty and went back in to mediate the situation with Alfredo. “The waitress asked me if my boyfriend is ok when you ran out,” he said. “Well, we’re not dating and I’m not gay,” I replied. 

The waitress was trying to be nice and yes I was acting like Alfredo and I were a married couple. Alfredo still got a kick out of the situation. The waitress came back and lifted my chair off the floor, “We’re ok, thanks.” It was at that point that I fully relaxed. “Hey Alfredo, I’m sorry for my hissy fit but between you and Juan, this art show is fucked up. I have people flying in from all over the world expecting a show.”

We left the café and went by The Lodge Gallery (now SFA Projects), to charge our phones on Chrystie St. between Broome and Houston.  I was quite nervous, stressed out and rushed, so I don’t recall if the dealer Keith Schweitzer was at the gallery or not that day. I basically looked at Alfredo and I said, “We have 24 hours to find a space for this group show.” Alfredo replied, “I know but what can we do?” It was my idea to do a sort Al Pacino pep talk at this point. I was saying things like, “We can sit on our hands and give up, or seize the day!” So we decided to make a bunch of phone calls and not give up until we found a space for the show.

I got ahold of a curator and set up a meeting with a number of individuals. We all met up at the now defunct Great Jones Café on Great Jones between Bowery and Lafayette streets. It was a cool little diner directly across the street from the former NYC studio of Jean-Michel Basquiat. It took Alfredo and me around 20 minutes on foot to walk the Bowery to the corner of Great Jones Street. When we arrived there was an entire table of artists and curators. 

Jean-Michel Basquiat's studio, Great Jones St. New York, NY

The great artist/curator Patrick Meager was there at Great Jones Cafe and a few other familiar faces. I was scanning the table to see who had a space for me to use as a pop-up for the show. “So I’m looking for a space to do a group show.” We needed a space ASAP, so I was being real direct with everyone. I noticed one guy at the table was very nervous and pouring with sweat – I had found our man. “Hey, you have something for me don’t you, you have a space, I can see it in your eyes,” I said, glaring at him from across the table.  He said, “Well there’s a space currently being occupied by a painter, it’s next door – I can show it to you.”

Great Jones Cafe, New York City.

After we left the café, we were taken next door on Bowery just in from the corner of Great Jones and Bowery. There was a large ground floor space there with several glass doors. The space was littered with scraps of canvas, and large paintings being worked on sitting all around the large floor. As we came back through the other large room, the artist was on the floor with his back to us, working on a painting. As Alfredo and I walked around him, we noticed that he was the Oscar winning actor Adrien Brody. Suddenly we looked at each other and realized that we had inadvertently stumbled into Adrien Brody’s art studio...

Alfredo said hello - and Adrien seemed deeply annoyed that people were intruding into his private painting studio. Alfredo happened to be carrying a portfolio of Alfredo's gun drawings, (renderings on paper of guns and machine guns that are filled in with bright colors). I didn’t know it at the time but Adrien is a gun enthusiast and a collector. On the spot he offered to buy some of Alfredo’s gun drawings. Handing Alfredo cash he said, “Here’s half of the money for the drawings, come back tomorrow and I’ll give you the rest.”

Meanwhile while all of this wild celebrity stuff was happening, we completely forgot about finding a space for the group show. The next day Alfredo and I returned to Adrien Brody’s studio on the Bowery and began collaborating on making a giant machine gun painting. Well, I was priming the canvas with a floor mop for Alfredo and Adrien. At first Alfredo with his generosity, had me painting something of my own work on the canvas.

But eventually it ended up being a giant gun by Alfredo. But before that happened Alfredo had made a call to his friend who writes scripts for Ben Stiller. They were in touch because Ben Stiller’s company was making a movie based on our friend Josh Harris and his project WE LIVE IN PUBLIC. So Alfredo had called his friend Brett, who was hard at work with Ben Stiller on a series for Showtime TV called “Escape at Dannemora,” a prison break series based on real-life events. Alfredo’s more than interesting life was also being considered for a movie version and Alfredo thought Adrien Brody should play him. We all thought Benicio Del Toro was a better fit. 

Adrien Brody and Alfredo Martinez working in Brody's NYC studio, photo by Sylvia Plachy ©2016.

So later in the afternoon the second day at Adrien Brody’s art studio, I’m getting a playlist of Trap music from Adrien’s assistant and prepping a large canvas for Alfredo’s giant gun commission for Adrien. On the floor of the studio, Adrien is working on a large collage and painting combination, a kind of mixed-media piece. Lunch happens and Adrien suggest that I join him at Blick art supplies, a short walk from the studio. After being stalked by fans and paparazzi, we get back to the studio. Alfredo is still working away and says, “I called Brett, he’s coming over.” 

So about 15 minutes later, in walks Brett with Ben Stiller. This was my starfucking celebrity overload moment. In any case I was still mopping gesso on a giant canvas and appeared to be the help. So Alfredo says to Ben and Adrien, “If you guys are making an art world movie - you gotta talk to Noah.” So then Ben Stiller and Adrien Brody were engaging me intellectually. To be honest, I'm not a "starfucker" - though some may disagree.

Noah Becker, Adrien Brody and Alfredo Martinez in front of an Adrien Brody collage, New York City. 

I started to trip out like I was on drugs after awhile - I nervously joked, “Hey guys, with all this celebrity in here, we should get Morgan Freeman to narrate our conversation, this is just too cinematic," they laughed and the ice was broken. I was getting a bit star struck but it was nothing like the people who got wind that I was hanging out with Adrien. Suddenly all these ex-girfriends who hate me were sending me texts, “hey long time no see, where are you?”

It was clear to me that Adrien suffers from a host of male and female stalkers. But the reason we were there is because we realized immediately that Adrien Brody is a great visual artist. As I mentioned earlier, the interaction with Adrien kind of overtook the plans we had for the group show. Eventually Alfredo and I curated a show called Beggars Banquet and Adrien agreed to put a painting in the show. It was a full circle moment, the opening was packed  -  and a good time was had by all. WM


Noah Becker

Noah Becker is an artist and the publisher and founding editor of Whitehot Magazine. He shows his paintings internationally at museums and galleries. Becker also plays jazz saxophone. Becker's writing has appeared in The Guardian, VICE, Garage, Art in America, Interview Magazine, Canadian Art and the Huffington Post. He has written texts for major artist monographs published by Rizzoli and Hatje Cantz. Becker directed the New York art documentary New York is Now (2010). Becker's new album of original music "Mode For Noah" was released in 2023. 


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