When you get to the point in life when your friends start having museum shows, you have a mixed bag of feelings, not the least of which is your own mortality. I remember the first time I saw an exhibit in a museum (I can’t remember where?) with Keith Haring’s work in it…. there were club invitations to parties I had attended and work I remember seeing in the subway or the studio, etc. I was proud of him, but it was a weird sensation. (I’ve shown my own work and memorabilia from the same period and it didn’t feel that strange.) Keith and I met in 1980, the first summer I arrived in NYC. He had just done one of his first murals over the stairs at Danceteria, a club where he was still a busboy at the time. In ten years, he was unknown, a New York art star, world famous and dead. Shocking, he made so much work and had such an impact in the space of one decade.
A new show, Keith Haring: The Political Line just opened at the de Young Fine Arts Museum in San Francisco. It features 130+ pieces — including big tarp paintings, sculptures and subway drawings. It’s the first time a major exhibit has focused on his political messages. Curator Dieter Buchhart talks about the activist nature of the work;
“It is amazing that the question of social justice and change that Keith Haring devoted himself to has not been addressed before in a major exhibition,” says Buchhart. “Haring understood that art was for everybody — he fought for the individual and against dictatorship, racism and capitalism. He was no utopian, but he had a dream that ‘nothing is an end, because it always can be the basis for something new and different.’”
Many of have not been published or on public view ever. Keith fought –I would say tirelessly but he did get tired– but he FOUGHT to end the AIDS epidemic in his work and life. He established The Keith Haring Foundation in his last years to speak about his own illness and generate activism and awareness about AIDS. He died of it in 1990, at age 31, but his influence on our generation and those who’ve followed is a testament to his vision and intention. Watch the video. In it, his sister talks about the last painting he made before his death.
Untitled from 1982, the cover of the catalogue (above), is a figure outlined on a large vinyl tarp in yellow and red paint, breaking a stick. Julia Gruen, a friend of Haring’s and executive director of the Keith Haring Foundation says;
“We felt that that image really in the simplest possible way spoke to a kind of political activism,” said “The image itself does not refer to a specific cause. It’s really about fighting against oppression. It’s about bucking the system. It’s about questioning authority.”
Yes, he’d have SO much to say about this last election, Ebola, the GOP, climate change, marriage equality – you name it. Look at the work and you can tell, he’d be fired up today. Btw, the online store has some great things of his so you CAN own a Keith Haring, if you like. Go here. I have a show across the bay in San Francisco in a month, so, I have an afternoon planned already… The Political Line runs through February 16th, 2015.