Keith Haring (1958-1990)
Haring was born in Reading, Pennsylvania, and grew up in nearby Kutztown, Pennsylvania. Haring enrolled in the Ivy School of Professional Art in Pittsburgh in 1976. He dropped out after two semesters, citing personal distaste for the commercial graphics world. Whilst in Pittsburgh, Haring continued to study and work on his own and in 1978 he launched the first solo exhibition of his work at the Pittsburgh Arts and Crafts Centre.
In 1978, Haring moved from Pittsburgh to New York City to attend the School of Visual Arts (SVA). Haring thrived among the alternative art community he found in Manhattan. He became close friends with contemporaries Kenny Scharf and Jean-Michel Basquiat, as well as the musicians, performance artists and graffiti writers of his new crowd. Haring describes himself as being swept up in the energy of this scene and organized many non-official exhibitions at alternative venues to museums or galleries.
Over this time, Haring developed his characteristically rich graphic expressionist style. He was drawn to Christo’s and Warhol’s work, enjoying the blurring of the lines between art and life and modelling his own desire to create a truly public art. Haring begun to hang drawings through subway stations from 1980, maximizing this opportunity for self-exposure, famously creating hundreds in short spaces of time. Haring termed the subway his “laboratory” for working out his ideas and experimenting with simple lines, serving the dual purpose of making his art accessible to all of New York.
Over the 1980s, Haring gained international success. He participated in his first solo exhibition in New York at the Westbeth Painters Space in 1981. In 1982 he made his Soho gallery debut with a one-man exhibition at the Tony Shafrazi Gallery. He participated in Documenta 7 in Kassel, the Sao Paulo Biennial and the Whitney Biennal, as well as completing an animation for the Spectacolor billboard in Times Square, designing sets and backdrops for theaters and clubs, developing watch designs, Vodka campaigns and public murals. The visibility of Haring’s art in the first half of the 1980s accelerated until he was a key figure on the international art scene by 1985.
In 1986, Haring opened the Pop Shop, a retail store selling merchandise branded with his images. Haring considered the shop space itself to be reflective of his work, decorating the interior with his signature striking murals. Despite receiving criticism for selling his art cheaply on magnets and T-shirts, Haring remained committed to circulating his art as widely and publically as possible, even if this necessitated reprinting onto everyday objects at a low cost.
During the 1980s, Haring’s work was featured in over 100 solo and group exhibitions. He was continually in demand for collaboration with artists and performers, and collaborations in the 1980s alone included with Madonna, Grace Jones, Timothy Leary and Andy Warhol. Haring attracted a wide audience due to his commitment to increasing accessibility of his work. Since his death of AIDS in 1990, Haring has been the focus of many retrospectives. His art was the subject of a 1997 retrospective at the Whitney Museum in New York. In 1966, a retrospective exhibition at the Museum of Contemporary Art Australia was the first major exhibition of his work in Australia. In 2008 he was exhibited at the MAC in Lyon, and in February 2010, on the 20th Anniversary of Haring’s death, the Tony Shafrazi Gallery showed an exhibition containing dozens of works from every stage of his career. In 2012, the Broooklyn Museum in New York opened Keith Haring: 1978-82. In April 2013, Keith Haring: The Political Line opened at the Musee d’Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris, and then toured to the De Young Museum in San Francisco. In the Tate Liverpool, Haring’s work was exhibited in 2019.
His work sits among public and private collections alike, including the Museum of Modern Art; the Morgan Library and Museum and the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York City; the Los Angeles County Museum of Art; the Art Institute of Chicago; the Bass Museum in Miami; the Musée d’Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris; the Brant Foundation Art Study Centre in Greenwhich; the Carnegie Museum of Art; the Andy Warhol Museum; the Ludwig Museum and the Stedelijk Museum.