"Keith Haring: 1978-1982" runs at the Brooklyn Museum through July 6th. It is the first large-scale exhibition of the artist's early work.
Haring is perhaps best-known for his cartoon-like figures and brightly-colored motif-like characters that drew upon elements of street art, the club scene, and his identity as a gay man in 1980s New York. Fellow artists Jean-Michel Basquiat and Kenny Scharf were contemporaries and friends, and their interactions fuelled much of what shaped the New York art scene, paving the way for future street artists like Retna, Banksy, and JR.
Born in small-town Pennsylvania in 1958, Haring was inspired by the colorful artwork of Walt Disney and Dr. Seuss, and studied to become a commercial graphic artist at the Ivy School of Professional Art in Pittsburgh. He dropped out, however, and moved in New York in 1978, where he enrolled in The School of Visual Arts (SVA) and was swept up in the burgeoning downtown art scene and attracting the notice of a then-emerging Madonna, who incorporated his designs into her onstage fashions for her first club dates.
Haring became especially known in New York for his 'subway drawings,' quickly executed works done on top of the heavy black paper MTA officials used for covering over empty advertising panels in subway stations. Using nothing but white chalk, Haring would do simple, energetic line drawings in what would come to be known as his signature cartoon-like style. Between 1980 and 1985, he would produce up to forty such drawings a day, engaging with commuters as he worked even as he dodged transit police. The 1980s also saw the artist get his first solo shows and participate in such prestigious art world events as Documenta 7 in Kassel, the São Paulo Biennial, and the Whitney Biennial.
In 1986, Haring opened the famous Pop Shop, and went on to produce large-scale outdoor murals and public artworks in New York, Paris, and Berlin. Haring passed away from AIDS-related illness in 1990, though not before establishing a foundation in his name that would provide funding and imagery to AIDS-related organizations and children’s programs.
"Keith Haring: 1978-1982" at the Brooklyn Museum features thirty black-and-white subway drawings, seven experimental videos, and over one hundred works on paper; it also encompasses rarely-seen sketchbooks, journals, exhibition fliers and documentary photographs. Project curator Tricia Laughlin Bloom recently told NPR that the show provides a glimpse into Haring's creative process. "One of the great things about this show is you see he's interested in these essential abstract forms and then working them out on a bigger scale," she observed.
Along with Haring's signature motifs - pyramids, crawling babies, flying saucers, dolphins, TV sets -are experimental cut-up works that combine various political, religious, racial, social, and sexual issues of the day. "Mob Flees At Pope Rally" and "Reagan: Ready To Kill" are just two examples of this technique. Haring copied these headlines, and, true to his mischievous creative spirit, plastered them across New York City. As well as reflecting Haring's friendship with author William S. Burroughs, Laughlin Bloom says the headlines were also designed to make people stop and think.
"It was designed to ... show up in the city as part of the overall canvas and to make a point," she said. "People would see them and go, "'Is that a real headline?'"
The exhibition runs through July and is co-organized by Cincinnati's Contemporary Arts Center and the Kunsthalle Wien in Austria.