These exquisite and surprising compositions, some of which are being exhibited for the first time, capture Haring’s invented version of reality that defined his artistic career. Astutely employing popular culture, sexual imagery, and religious iconography, the collages and large-scale paintings on view offer a deeply personal andcritically important narrative, while simultaneously providing rare examples of works created during the last years of Haring’s life.
Haring first rose to prominence in New York for his spontaneous, graffiti-inspired drawings that began throughout the city’s subway stations during the early 1980s. The artist’s motive for the subway drawings was not self-promotion or property defacement, but rather his passion for democratic accessibility to his work outside of conventional art spaces. Though many of his creations appeared celebratory and playful, he was a politically active and socially conscious artist,interested in reflecting and responding to the cultural climate in which he was living. As a result, Haring’s works frequently explore complex themes of sexuality, religion, racial inequality, economics, technology, and the AIDS virus. Haring’s canvas, Malcolm X (1988), visually summarizes these overarching themes, with the careful inclusion of imagery and motifs inherent to the artist’s practice. This late work, a commentary on discrimination against African-Americans, reinterprets Haring’s familiar iconography while interjecting elements of popular culture, art history, and religion in a collage-like manner, and articulate his urgency to visually narrate injustices throughout history using various methods of creation.
During the last years of his life, Haring continued to experiment with collage in both his paintings and drawings,a practice he had explored in his early career. These works were created on flat surfaces and include delicately rendered figures and symbols made with gouache and ink. Embedded in each work are different pieces of ephemera, such as magazine covers, newspaper clippings, reproductions of famous paintings like Leonardo da Vinci’s Mona Lisa, and homoerotic advertisements, gathered contemporaneously with each work’s creation, that weave their way into these post-apocalyptic and ambiguous landscapes. Much like the free-flowing way in which Haring conceived of his earliestpublic drawings, often depicting his subjects with one continuous line, these collages mimic the artist’s automatic approach to artmaking and incorporate cerebral and investigative elements of artistic production. These collages, like Haring’s late paintings, bridge dissimilar subjects from contemporary culture and history, providing new dialogues surrounding important social issues during his lifetime that still resonate today. On these collages, art historian Alexandra Anderson-Spivy notes, “His urge to experiment, while ever present, intensified as he came to acknowledge his time as limited. He seems to have felt unremitting pressure to explore new kinds of gesture, new mediums.”These visual experiments, some of Haring’s last works, demonstrate his never-ending curiosity with various media, as well as his career-long interest in artwork accessibility as means to enact social change.
As 2018 marks what would have been Haring’s sixtieth year of life, this exhibition serves as a memorial to and celebration of his artistic career and profound impact on society through his support of marginalized youth, and individuals fighting AIDS, which continues today through the efforts of the Keith Haring Foundation.