Keith Haring: 1972-1982
Brooklyn Museum, NY
March 16 – July 8 2012
Keith Haring’s work is kinetic. It is movement, energy, vibration and most importantly, fearlessness: it is New York. Although not a native New Yorker, Haring, by the time of his death in 1990, was a New York icon. The city was both his subject and his canvas; every line bursts with the mirrored energy he felt for his surroundings, every line sings, dances, and shouts (loudly): “I LOVE NEW YORK!”.
Haring’s iconic vocabulary of forms developed from his childhood obsession with drawing cartoons. After experimenting with graphic design (and dropping out) Haring enrolled at the New York SVA in 1978 and began to experiment with abstract patterns and geometric forms learned from the abstract expressionists. By the 1980’s he took his drawings from sketchbooks to the streets, famously covering the subway’s blank advert spaces in white chalk drawings. His work is both colossal and infinite; scale was never an issue, because Haring didn’t want to paint a canvas, he wanted to paint the world.
Untitled sketchbook pages, 1978
Haring’s show at Brooklyn Museum shows how much Haring immersed himself in his work, and maps the emergence of the artist’s stylistic vocabulary of forms over time, from his early experimentation with abstract shapes, to the development of his iconic vocabulary of figures and objects that he used for the rest of his life (the pyramid, the dog, etc: instantly recognizable).
Haring’s works on video are really important in this show; they communicate the performative and bodily aspect of Haring’s work in a way that his paintings and sketches do not. In his 1979 videos A Circular Play, and Painting Myself Into a Corner, viewers are able to witness the sheer speed with which Haring applied his paint as the camera records the artist painting rhythmically on the ground to the soundtrack of Devo’s Shrivel Up, the process of drawing happening as naturally as dancing.
Part of Matrix, 1983
The connection between music and painting is vital and highlighted well in the retrospective. Accompanying the works on show is a soundtrack of Patti Smith, Devo, David Bowie, and Talking Heads. Music helps to contextualize the scene that Haring immersed himself in during the 1980’s, and it is easy to make the connection between the energetic and rhythmic riffs of Patti Smith and the bold vibrating lines of Haring.
The exhibition is a further success in it’s deliberate portrayal of Haring as an urban Robin Hood figure. Curator Raphaela Platow makes the important point that Haring’s works were made for the New York public. Not the galleries or the collectors, but the people on street level.
Untitled Subway Drawing, 1983
In Haring’s own words:
“The public needs art, and it is the responsibility of a “self proclaimed artist” to realize the public needs art and not to make bourgeois art for a few and ignore the masses”.
Haring used public spaces to bring art out of the exclusivity of the galleries and to the people; to replace intellectual complexity with universality. Like a modern Robin Hood, he gave art back to the people, whether on the subway, or on the buttons that he gave out to the public (he was arrested several times for “graffiti). The exhibition shows incredible archival photographs, taken by artist Tseng Kwong Chi, of the hundreds of works that graced the streets of New York during the 1980’s. Whether on trash cans, subways, walls, or on canvas, Haring’s work was all about joy.
The joy of simplicity, the joy of life, the joy of New York.
n.b: these are all crap iphone images, i didn’t realise you could take a camera in so wasn’t prepared. Spot my reflection in all the photos (just as fun as where’s wally?)