Though Keith Haring grew up, attended art school, and had his first solo show in Pennsylvania, much of his career was made in New York, and the pop artist has certainly left his mark here. Several solo shows opening in New York this month serve as a reminder that Haring’s radiant iconography remains a constant presence in the City.
Keith Haring: 1978-1982, now on view at the Brooklyn Museum, is the first large-scale exhibition to focus on the artist’s early years. The span begins with works from 1978—the year Haring moved to New York, where he studied at the School of Visual Arts (SVA) and fell into the thriving alternative art community, befriending the likes of Kenny Scharf, Jean-Michel Basquiat, and Andy Warhol—and it includes everything from rarely seen personal journals and notebooks to party photos and experimental videos.
Haring revisited his early work to create The Blue Print Drawings, currently featured in its first-ever public showing at Pace Prints. Screenprinted in 1990 from ink drawings made between 1980 and ’81, the monumental, eighty-foot-long scroll offers a mix of flying saucers, dogs, crawling babies, and more, which Haring described as “a perfect time capsule of my beginning in New York City.”
As Haring established himself in the local arts community and became inspired by those in it, he developed a dedication to making art public. By 1980, he began making subway murals in white chalk, and his artistic presence and recognition quickly grew. In 1982, he and artist friend Juan Dubose made a large Day-Glo acrylic mural on a cement slab at the intersection of Bowery and Houston. Deitch Projects recently turned the mural wall into a downtown tradition, first with a tribute to Haring’s original in 2008, and then with works by artists including Shepard Fairey and Kenny Scharf. The Hole gallery has continued the wall’s legacy, currently with a work by LA-based artist RETNA.
While Haring’s first Bowery mural is long gone, some of his original public works remain on view throughout the City, including at Crack is Wack Park along FDR Drive (renamed for his 1986 piece there) and along the Carmine Street Swimming Pool. The Keith Haring Foundation underwrites periodic restoration so that the pieces will endure.
As artists’ fame and success grow, the window of accessibility for their work often begins to close. But in the height of his success, Haring sought to keep his window open and launched his own Pop Shop in 1986. He painted the entire store on Lafayette, not far from the Bowery mural, and stocked it with T-shirts, posters, toys, and other items featuring his images. Warhol and friends approved. While the Pop Shop has since closed, the Keith Haring Foundation donated the original ceiling from the Pop Shop to the recently reopened NY Historical Society, where it is permanently installed over the museum’s admissions desk.
Among his final public works and most sexually overt pieces, Once Upon a Time, the mural Haring completed in the Greenwich Village bathroom of an LGBT Center in honor of the 20th Anniversary of the Stonewall Riots, has been restored and is on view through the month of March. Haring completed the piece in 1989 and died of AIDS-related complications the following year. The Cathedral of St. John the Divine, which hosted the artist’s memorial service, is home to one of nine editions of his final work, a cast bronze and gold leaf altarpiece.
Even more Haring on view now in NYC: two monumental sculptures in front of 17 State Street in the Financial District, a fifty-six-foot-long drawing in the second floor galleries of the Museum of Modern Art, and an exhibition from March 30 to April 23 at Sotheby’s.