Looks like Tate Liverpool has once again trumped (if that word is still acceptable) Tate Modern or in fact all of the major London Galleries by mounting the first serious show of the late great graffiti artist Keith Haring (1958–1990). Haring was a unique presence in 1980s New York, playing a key role in his generation’s counterculture and creating an immediately recognisable style. Best known for his iconic motifs, such as barking dogs, crawling babies and flying saucers, Haring’s work was politically charged and motivated by activism. As an openly gay man, Haring’s work as an AIDS activist and educator remains his most essential legacy. Elsewhere, he responded to equally critical and relevant issues, contributing to nuclear disarmament campaigns, creating a famed Crack is Wack mural, and designing anti-apartheid posters.
The exhibition also sheds light on the performative nature of Haring’s work
Haring expanded on wide-ranging legacies and influences from abstract expressionism, pop art, art brut, and Chinese calligraphy, to the work of New York graffiti artists and the Belgian artist Pierre Alechinsky.
His singular, seemingly spontaneous style, was animated by the energies of his era; from space travel and robotics to video games. The exhibition evokes the style and spirit of the time in rarely seen archival documents, video and photographs while Haring’s immersive ‘black light’ installation from 1982 presents fluorescent works under UV light accompanied by hip-hop music.
Dedicated to the creation of a truly public art that would reach the widest possible audience, Haring commented: ‘I remember most clearly an afternoon of drawing… All kinds of people would stop and look at the huge drawing and many were eager to comment on their feelings toward it. This was the first time I realised how many people could enjoy art if they were given the chance. These were not the people I saw in the museums or in the galleries but a cross-section of humanity that cut across all boundaries.’ He frequently collaborated with Andy Warhol and Jean-Michel Basquiat who shared his desire to unite high art and popular culture.
The exhibition also sheds light on the performative nature of Haring’s work, from his live chalk drawings on the New York subway to working with artist and photographer Tseng Kwong Chi who documented Haring’s practice. Haring also collaborated with Madonna, Grace Jones, Vivienne Westwood, and Malcolm McLaren, making sets and designs for videos and performances. He was also an active member of the legendary Club 57 in New York, where he gave performances and organized exhibitions.
In 1987, Haring travelled to Belgium. He spent a productive summer in Knokke to prepare a solo exhibition in the Casino, where he sold the new works. It was also in this period that he created the large wall painting in the M HKA in Antwerp. During his stay in Belgium he discovered his seropositive status. Keith Haring’s career was brief, and on 16 February 1990 he died of AIDS-related complications at the age of 31. Haring expressed universal concepts of birth, death, love, sex, war and compassion to create a body of work that remains as relevant today as it was when it was made.
Keith Haring is curated by Darren Pih, Curator, Exhibitions & Displays, and Tamar Hemmes, Assistant Curator, Tate Liverpool. It is realised in collaboration with Tate Liverpool, the Keith Haring Foundation and in partnership with BOZAR, Centre for Fine Arts Brussels, and Museum Folkwang, Essen. The exhibition will tour to BOZAR (5 December 2019 to 19 April 2020) and Museum Folkwang (22 May to 06 September 2020). Tate Liverpool and BOZAR collaborated together in 2017 presenting Yves Klein: Theatre of the Void at both institutions.
Top Photo: Courtesy Tate Liverpool © Keith Haring Foundation
Keith Haring: Tate Liverpool: 14 June to 10 November 2019