Artist Basquiat's early works to be on exhibit, auction in New York

(Reuters) - Early works by artist Jean-Michel Basquiat, known for his provocative, powerful and sometimes controversial paintings, will be exhibited and sold in online and in-house auctions in March, Christie's said on Friday.

Approximately 50 works that the Brooklyn-born artist, who burst onto the New York art scene more than 30 years ago, left to his former lover, Alexis Adler, will be included in the exhibit that opens on March 1 in New York.

Adler, an embryologist at New York University's School of Medicine, shared an apartment with Basquiat on New York's Lower East Side from 1979 to 1980, when he was a struggling artist.

"I loved Jean and Jean loved me. We had our moment together here on 12th Street and I'll always have that, but it's time to share," said Adler, 57, who still lives in the apartment.

He could not afford supplies and painted on the walls, doors, refrigerator and even on Adler's coat - a gold garment she plans to wear to the exhibit opening, she said in an interview.

Three of Basquiat's most sought-after works will be on auction at Christie's on March 6. An untitled mural painted on a door with the words "Famous Negro Athletes" is expected to be the top seller with a pre-sale estimate of up to $1.2 million.

Other highlights are "Olive Oyl," a work on plaster which could fetch as much as $600,000, and "Milk," a painted radiator, expected to sell for up to $500,000.

Among 41 other works to be sold online March 2-17, are graffiti sketches priced as low as $2,000.

The exhibit and auctions come on the heels of record sales for post-war paintings. In November, Francis Bacon's "Three Studies of Lucian Freud," at $142.4 million, became the most expensive work of art ever sold at Christie's in New York.

Basquiat, a friend of pop artist Andy Warhol, drew heavily on his Haitian and Puerto Rican roots. His career was the subject of a feature film and a documentary. He died in 1988 at the age of 27 of a heroin overdose.

"The sum total of these works provide an intimate view of Basquiat before his fame and while he was practicing graffiti in the streets and getting by on his own wits and the good will of others, who recognized his tremendous creative spark," said Jonathan Laib, Christie's senior specialist for post-war and contemporary art.

"They really describes this very particular period for the artist and for the Lower East Side art scene in New York City, which was so vibrant," he said.

Adler said she has always wanted to show and share Basquiat's artwork.

"I have so much, and it is just time for it to be released in the world," she said.

(Reporting By Marina Lopes; editing by Patricia Reaney and Gunna Dickson)