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KEITH HARING: POSTERS
September 17, 2012 - December 14, 2012
A gift of the Keith Haring Foundation, NY
Keith Haring (1958-1990) was one of the most innovative artists working in the 1980s, and belonged as much to that decade as Prince or Madonna, whom he new personally and admired. He owed his celebrity less to art critics and museums than to the general public who warmed to his streetwise icons.
Media-savvy from the start, Haring did not depend on posters to project himself into the public domain, relying instead on subway chalk drawings and self-organized exhibitions. However, in only eight years, he designed more than eighty posters that—and this is what sets him apart from other artists—not only advertised his own exhibitions, but also took a stance on socio-political issues such as nuclear power, drugs, or AIDS.
Born in Reading, Pennsylvania, Haring grew up in nearby Kutztown—about 30 miles from the current exhibition at Lehigh University. Haring was interested in art from an early age. He writes: “My father made cartoons. Since I was little, I had been doing cartoons, creating characters and stories. In my mind, though, there was a separation between cartooning and being an artist.” From 1976 to 1978 he studied commercial art at The Ivy School of Professional Art in Pittsburgh. He soon shifted his interest to fine art. At age 19, he moved to New York City, where he found inspiration in the city’s graffiti, its multiculturalism, its gay community, and a peer group of other artists. He studied at the School of Visual Arts, which provided an important critical framework for his emerging style.
“One day, riding the subway, I saw this empty black panel where an advertisement was supposed to go. I immediately realized that this was the perfect place to draw. I went back above ground to a card shop and bought a box of white chalk, went back down and did a drawing on it. It was perfect—soft black paper; chalk drew on it really easily.”
“I drew in the daytime which meant there were always people watching. There were always confrontations, whether it was with people that were interested in looking at it, or people that wanted to tell you you shouldn’t be drawing there.. questions and observations were coming from every range of person you could imagine, from little kids to old ladies to art historians.”
Shows at P.S. 122 and Club 57 added to his visibility. He had his first one-man show at Tony Shafrazi gallery in 1982, an exhibition that included drawings, painted tarpaulins, sculptures, and on-site work; he also transformed part of Shafrazi’s space into a club-like environment. The next several years brought Haring world-wide recognition. He worked with amazing energy, and had shows in Rotterdam, Tokyo, Naples, Antwerp, London, Cologne, Milan, Basel, Munich, Bordeaux, Amsterdam, Paris and other cities, as well as numerous shows in New York and across the United States.
In April 1986, Haring opened the Pop Shop in downtown Manhattan. He saw the shop as an extension of his work, a boutique where items featuring his art could be accessible to everyone at an affordable price. . “My work was starting to become more expensive and more popular within the art market. Those prices meant that only people who could afford big art prices could have access to the work. The Pop Shop makes it accessible.”
In 1988, Haring was diagnosed with AIDS. By that time, AIDS had already deprived New York City, the art world, the world at large and Haring himself of many friends and luminaries. The diagnosis did not come as a surprise to Keith. He publicly acknowledged his illness in a remarkably candid interview in Rolling Stone magazine.
“No matter how long you work, it’s always going to end sometime. And there’s always going to be things left undone. And it wouldn’t matter if you lived until you were seventy-five. There would still be new ideas. There would still be things that you wished you would have accomplished. You could work for several lifetimes….Part of the reason that I’m not having trouble facing the reality of death is that it’s not a limitation, in a way. It could have happened any time, and it is going to happen sometime. If you live your life according to that, death is irrelevant. Everything I’m doing right now is exactly what I want to do.”
SOURCES: Keith Haring Short Message, by Marc Gundel, Wikipedia, and The Keith Haring Foundation archive.