An exhibition devoted to Keith Haring opened this past month at the Brooklyn Museum where the artist’s drawings, videos, archival objects, rarely seen sketchbooks and journals are all on display until July 8th.
Chronicling Haring’s career from its very beginning when he left Pennsylvania to attend the School of Visual Arts in New York, the exhibit follows the artist’s development as he introduced socially and politically charged art to the streets and subway walls of New York City.
As an artist whose life was devoted to making public art, Haring’s move to New York City proved to be a key point in his career—exposing him to the alternative art community that was developing and the musicians, performance and graffiti artists who populated the streets of Downtown Manhattan in the 80s. Exploring his relationship with contemporaries such as Jean-Michel Basquiat and Kenny Scharf, this exhibit also take a look at how Haring’s environment contributed to his development as an artist in the public realm.
In 1980, Haring started using the blank advertising panels in the subway as his canvas. Drawing with white chalk onto the black paper panels, Haring transformed the subway into what he called his “laboratory,” where he experimented with ideas, shapes and exposed his work to the wide audience he hoped for.
Haring, who had dabbled briefly in commercial arts before his move to New York City, embraced the notion of an artist’s independence, paving the way for future street artists like Banksy and Shepard Fairey. Christo, the man behind “The Gates” of Central Park from 2005, had quite an impact on Haring, who stated in a 1989 interview for Rolling Stone, “The thing I responded to most was [Christo’s] belief that art could reach all kinds of people, as opposed to the traditional view, which has art as this elitist thing.”
Always striving for a wider audience, Haring opened his Pop Shop in 1986 in Soho, where visitors were given access to his work in the form of T-shirts, posters, buttons and magnets. Though it received criticism from the art world, fans—including one of Haring’s mentors, Andy Warhol—praised his innovative project.
In keeping with his desire to create altruistic art, Haring continued to create public works throughout his career, creating more than 50 public artworks between 1982 and 1989 in various cities around the world. Laden with social messages, Haring’s public work focused on art as a form of altruism, while the artist himself also worked with children in schools throughout the world to create drawing workshops and draw images for use in literacy programs.
Today, pieces like the Crack is Wack mural along New York’s FDR Drive have been landmarked for preservation. And for those of us who weren’t around to revel in Haring’s fleeting subway art from the 80s, we can thankfully find solace at the Brooklyn Museum.