KEITH HARING (1958-1990)
KEITH HARING (1958-1990)


KEITH HARING (1958-1990)
signed, dated and numbered '1/6 K.Haring 87' (on the base)
enamel aluminum
61 x 24 x 15 cm. (24 x 9 ½ x 5 7/8 in.)
Executed in 1987
edition 1/6
Galerie Daniel Templon, Paris, France
Private Collection, Antwerp, Belgium
Private Collection, UK

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Lot Essay

“[Sculpture] has a kind of power that a painting doesn't have. You can't burn it. It would survive a nuclear blast probably. It has this permanent, real feeling that will exist much, much longer than I will ever exist, so it's a kind of immortality. All of it I guess, to a degree, is like that ... All of the things that you make are a kind of quest for immortality.” -Keith Haring

Together with Jean-Michel Basquiat, Keith Haring was a leading figure on the New York underground art scene that thrived in the late 1970s and ‘80s. He quickly made a name for himself as a natural draughtsman and visual urban poet, initially creating chalk drawings on unused advertising spaces in subway stations. The artist was heavily inspired by pop culture from the very beginning, and developed his own visual language of icons through a versatile mix of mediums that included murals, paintings, graffiti, design and sculpture. The latter, in particular, played a prominent role in the final stages of his tragically brief but meteoric career.

In 1985, the gallerist Tony Shafrazi advised Haring to “Put your alphabet in the landscape, out there in the real world”. In response, the artist produced a series of free-standing brightly coloured figures on which children were encouraged to play, creating the “atmosphere of a wild playground” (T. Shafrazi, quoted in Keith Haring: Sculptures, Paintings and Works on Paper, exh., cat., Ben Brown Fine Arts, London, 2005, p. 22). The medium was radically different from his paintings and early chalk drawings, and the translation into cut metal added a further layer of reality to his work. Created in 1987, Acrobats presents three of Haring’s iconic stick figures stacked playfully in kinetic balance. Challenging traditional notions of static sculpture, it reflects the artist’s unwavering passion for music, dance and nightlife of his era. With one figure balancing on its head and another breaking out in a handstand, it is a vision of freedom, motion and physical joy.

While seemingly playful, Haring’s works also deal with pertinent political and social issues, centred on themes of death, sex, and war. As an activist, he was deeply committed to the causes he supported, in particular raising awareness for the AIDS epidemic which became a topic close to his heart after he was diagnosed with it in 1988. As well as celebrating dance and life, Acrobats thus harbours a further layer of meaning: one of empathy, perseverance and defiance. It was also important to Haring to give back to the larger art world, and the artist often used the totem as a way of capturing the spiritual significance of the community to which he belonged.

More than anything, sculpture provided Haring with a means of touching people’s lives. Many of his public works were placed in locations where children could interact freely with them. He created murals and sculptures in the U.S. and Europe, in locations such as the Necker Children’s Hospital in Paris, the San Antonia Church in Pisa and the Carmine Street Swimming Pool in New York. Although Haring strove to communicate both specific and general messages through his art, he also wanted his work to be ambiguous enough that it could be interpreted by anyone on their own terms. Rendered in Haring’s brilliant, universal language, Acrobats radiates a potent energy of optimism and reinforces his faithful devotion to creating art for the people.

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