The Perpetual Garret

“You know, the primary thing about a New York apartment is that it must be quiet,” says the artist Taylor Mead, who has lived since 1979 in a 260-square-foot hovel on Ludlow Street. “And have nice light.” New York artists have always been famously accommodating about their accommodations, choosing to live here as spartans or slobs (or both) rather than anywhere else. This is the city at its most romantic—though, as Mead would tell you, romance isn’t easy. In 2002, he received an eviction notice. “They had the building fumigated because it was infested with cockroaches.” He was allowed to stay, but many of his belongings and work weren’t. “Now the apartment is a worse wreck than before,” he says. “My ceiling is collapsing, there’s no water coming in—but I’m afraid to complain, because they’ll inspect it again.”

This article has been corrected to show that William S. Burroughs lived at 222 Bowery, not 222 Broadway.

John Quincy Adams Ward, 1887 As befit an artist whose statue of George Washington had just been installed at Federal Hall, Ward’s studio at 119 West 52nd Street was designed by the preeminent architect Richard Morris Hunt. Photo: Pach Brothers/Archives of American Art/Smithsonian Institution

Walker Evans, c. 1935 Evans kept part of his mother’s car engine behind the clothes hamper in the kitchen of 441 East 92nd Street. Photo: ” Walker Evans Archive/The Metropolitan Museum of Art

Robert Rauschenberg, 1953 Rauschenberg in his Fulton Street loft. He had built a bathtub by lining a fish crate with tar but could only use it in the summer because he had no hot water. Photo: ” Robert Rauschenberg Foundation, New York/Schirmer/Mosel

Leonard Horowitz, 1961 Horowitz, the Village Voice art critic, playing his recorder in his loft at 645 Broadway, where he lived for 25 years. According to the photographer Fred McDarrah, the visible items”shower, bed, dining table, vanity screen, ladder, record player, coffee table, dead avocado plant”were everything Horowitz owned. Photo: Fred W. McDarrah/Getty Images

Patti Smith, 1974 Smith in her apartment on Macdougal Street. She had just performed her first extended gig, a six-day stint at Max’s Kansas City. Photo: Allan Tannenbaum/Polaris

William S. Burroughs, c. 1978 Burroughs nicknamed his room in this partially converted YMCA at 222 Bowery “the Bunker.” He lived in the former locker room; twenty years earlier, Mark Rothko worked on his murals for the Four Seasons in the abandoned gym. Photo: Udo Breger

Cindy Sherman, 1982 Sherman with her blind pet dove in her apartment at 64 Fulton Street, where she lived until 1983. The shower was in the kitchen and the toilet was down the hall. Photo: Mary Ellen Mark

Keith Haring, 1983 Haring with his boyfriend, Juan Dubose, in the railroad apartment they shared with a friend at 325 Broome Street. To maintain some privacy, Haring and Dubose slept in a camping tent. Photo: Laura Levine/Corbis

John Cage, 1979 Cage and Merce Cunningham shared a loft at 101 West 18th Street. By 1982, Cage had filled the space with 203 plants. Photo: Lelli & Masotti/Alinari/The Image Works

John Ahearn, 1983 Ahearn working on his piece Bobbie (Sneaker Town USA) in his apartment on Walton Avenue in the South Bronx (his frequent collaborator Rigoberto Torres sits to the left on the couch). The living room doubled as Ahearn’s studio. Photo: Martha Cooper

Taylor Mead, 1984 Mead’s rent-stabilized apartment cost him $75 a month in 1979 and is now nearing $460. The 86-year-old Warhol “superstar” still performs at the Bowery Poetry Club, but his clutter has restricted other activities. “I’ve painted myself out of the apartment,” he says. Photo: Peter Bellamy

Ralph Ellison, 1986 Ellison at 730 Riverside Drive, where he lived until his death, in 1994. He left behind thousands of pages of writing, some of which were posthumously collected and published as Juneteenth. Photo: Keith Meyers/The New York Times/Redux

Terence Koh, 2003 Koh shared this 400-square-foot apartment, a third-floor walk-up on Henry Street, with his partner, Garrick Gott.

Hayden Cummings and Liam Crill, 2009 Cummings co-founded a trailer park in the lot behind this former nut-roasting factory at 304 Meserole Street in Bushwick. Rent started at $550 and included access to the interior communal space, which contained a metal shop, a ceramic studio, and an Airstream with an aquaponics garden. It turned out, however, that the building’s landlord did not control the lot, and last month all the trailers were removed. Photo: Paul Martinka/Polaris

The Perpetual Garret