Keith Haring (1958-1990)
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Keith Haring (1958-1990)


Keith Haring (1958-1990)
signed, inscribed and dated 'K. Haring JAN. 31-1985 NYC K. H.' (on the overlap)
acrylic on canvas
48 x 48in. (122 x 122cm.)
Painted in 1985
Acquired from the artist by the present owner in 1985.
G. Celant, Keith Haring, Munich 1992, no. 76 (illustrated in colour).
A. Kolossa, Keith Haring, Cologne 2009 (illustrated in colour, unpaged).
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Beatriz Ordovas
Beatriz Ordovas

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Lot Essay

The mid-1980s marked a highly charged period both within Haring's own personal life and in the socio-historical landscape of where he lived and worked, New York City. In a turn away from the playful, almost comically hedonistic works of the early 80s, this example from 1985, with its uncompromising subject matter conveyed through the iconic triad of red, black and white, retains a startling graphic immediacy which is critically poised between personal expressionism and political activism.
Untitled in one sense glances back to classical painting, becoming a contemporary realisation of the symbolic castration portrayed by Caravaggio in Judith Beheading Holofernes (1598-1599). Yet while Caravaggio's brutal scene is expressed with the brilliance of dramatic realism, the reductive stylisation of Haring's work serves not only to distill its communicative effect but also to throw into sharp relief contemporary anxieties of his day, thus becoming a powerfully symbolic work itself.
Just two years before, Haring had been indirectly caught up in an event which had gripped the public consciousness of New York City. In 1983 Michael Stewart, a young African American graffiti artist, had been killed by the police after leaving one of Haring's parties. The incident and its ensuing controversy (in which all the officers were duly acquitted) once again called into question issues of race and equality in New York which were simultaneously being fought out on a national level in the anti-Apartheid movement of South Africa. Against this background, the powerful use of black and white in Untitled thus vividly recalls Haring's own 'Free South Africa' poster of 1984, as well as the confrontational black paper-cuts of Kara Walker, who in the 1990s used her silhouetted images to obliquely, yet devastatingly, reference the plight of African American slaves in the Antebellum South.
Meanwhile, 1985 was also the year in which Haring confessed that 'things had seriously changed in New York, and in [his] life.' (Keith Haring, 1989, quoted in Keith Haring, 2008, p. 344). This was the moment at which AIDS became a horrific reality not only for Haring on a personal level but also for the world at large. Four years later Haring himself was to fall victim to the virus, yet before his death he had channeled much of his boundless creative energy into generating awareness about AIDS and its effects. He set up the Haring Foundation and participated in numerous campaigns, such as 'Art against AIDS' and 'Act Up', enlisting much of his imagery, which echoed that of Untitled, to reach out and attempt to break down its social stigma. Haring once commented that 'Pure Art exists only on the level of instant response to pure life'. (Keith Haring, 1978, quoted in Ralph Melcher, Heaven and Hell, from the Keith Haring Archive) is a self proclaimed artist and communicator 'of the people' his work tirelessly demonstrates an empathy with the daily processes of history and lived experience, and in turn, seeks to dispel the divisions of prejudice, injustice and inequality.

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