KEITH HARING (1958-1990)
KEITH HARING (1958-1990)
KEITH HARING (1958-1990)
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This lot has been imported from outside of the UK … Read more PROPERTY FROM A DISTINGUISHED PRIVATE EUROPEAN COLLECTION
KEITH HARING (1958-1990)

Untitled (Drawings for Fashion Moda, New Museum)

KEITH HARING (1958-1990)
Untitled (Drawings for Fashion Moda, New Museum)
signed and inscribed 'K. Haring DRAWING for FASHION SHOW AT NEW' (on the reverse)
sumi ink on posterboard
48 1⁄4 x 93 1⁄2in. (122.5 x 237.4cm.)
Executed in 1980
Estate of Keith Haring.
André Emmerich Gallery, New York.
Tony Shafrazi, New York.
Deitch Projects, New York.
Acquired from the above by the present owner in 1999.
J. Deitch, S. Geiss and J. Gruen, Keith Haring, New York 2008, p. 137 (illustrated in colour, pp. 130-131).
A. Kolossa, Keith Haring, 1958-1990, A Life For Art, Germany 2009, p. 16 (illustrated in colour, p. 17).
New York, New Museum, Events: Fashion Moda, Taller Boricua, Artists Invite Artists, 1980-1981.
New York, Whitney Museum of American Art, Keith Haring¸1997-1999, p. 291 (illustrated in colour, p. 55). This exhibition later travelled to Toronto, Art Gallery of Ontario; Miami, Museum of Contemporary Art Miami; San Francisco, San Francisco Museum of Modern Art; Montreal, The Montreal Museum of Fine Arts and New Zealand, City Gallery.
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This lot has been imported from outside of the UK for sale and placed under the Temporary Admission regime. Import VAT is payable at 5% on the hammer price. VAT at 20% will be added to the buyer’s premium but will not be shown separately on our invoice.
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Please note that this lot, which was not marked with a circle and diamond symbol in the catalogue, has a guarantee fully or partially financed by a third-party who may be bidding on the lot and may receive a financing fee from Christie's. Please see the conditions of sale for further information.

Brought to you by

Keith Gill
Keith Gill Head of Evening Sale, Head of Department

Lot Essay

Created in 1980, during the heady early days of Keith Haring’s practice, the present work is a seminal drawing that heralds the birth of some of his most important motifs. Part of a suite shown at the New Museum, New York that year, and later exhibited at the Whitney Museum of American Art in 1997, its comic book-style narrative seems to invoke the parable of Haring’s iconic ‘radiant baby’, who had recently sprung to life in the artist’s celebrated ‘subway drawings’. Illuminated by rays from an overhead spaceship, a woman gives birth to a child, who in turn becomes shrouded in light. In the right hand box, the baby—now grown—is beamed back up to the sky in a blaze of glory, hailed from the ground by a crowd of adoring followers. Haring’s substitution of a black protagonist within this Christ-like narrative is significant, indicating his engagement with themes of race at the heart of New York’s multicultural urban scene. Notably, the New Museum exhibition, curated by the pioneering South Bronx gallery Fashion Moda, was one of the first to celebrate graffiti artists in a museum setting, paving the way for Haring’s own near-messianic rise to fame over the following decade.

1980 was a transformative year for Haring. Arriving on the Lower East Side from Pittsburgh in 1978, he had immersed himself in the city’s thriving underground milieu: a network of musicians, graffitists, writers and performance artists who congregated in subways, downtown streets and nightclubs. By day, he experimented wildly with different media, theories and ideas as a student at the School of Visual Arts: journal entries reveals his participation in a cosmology class, offering intriguing context for the present work. By night, he imbibed the intoxicating rhythms of Club 57, Danceteria and other haunts. It was not until 1980, however, that his visual language began to take flight, forged from a diverse combination of influences that ranged from cartoons and graffiti to the work of Jean Dubuffet and the writings of William Burroughs. Working initially on the city’s subway walls, Haring began to chalk out a universe of characters—UFOs, barking dogs, stick-like figures and others—whose distinctive appearance quickly became a talking point among commuters. As well as exhibiting at the New Museum, Haring was also included in The Times Square Show that year, taking his place alongside Jean-Michel Basquiat, Kenny Scharf and other emerging urban artists.

At the heart of Haring’s motivic world was the ‘radiant baby’: a crawling child, surrounded by glowing radial lines. Today, the motif remains synonymous with the artist, frequently interpreted as a universal symbol of purity, goodness and innocence. It would also prompt the title of Rene Ricard’s landmark 1981 text ‘The Radiant Child’, which asserted that ‘the greatest thing is to come up with something so good it seems as if it’s always been there, like a proverb’ (R. Ricard, ‘The Radiant Child’, Artforum, December 1981, p. 36). The present work—which charts the radiant baby’s journey from birth to transcendence in near-biblical terms—seems to speak directly to this assessment. For Haring, the interactions and conversations sparked with members of the public by his subway drawings served to nourish his belief in art’s social power, and the communicative ‘magic’ of drawing. These principles would guide his practice over the following decade, fuelling his conviction that art should be for everyone. Such thinking would surely have resonated with the aims of Fashion Moda, who made it their mission to elevate artists from diverse cultural, educational and socio-economic backgrounds.

As Ricardo Montez argues in his recently-published book Keith Harings Line: Race and the Performance of Desire, the artist’s interaction with questions of race deserves careful consideration. Haring was deeply influenced by the black communities whom he lived and worked alongside on the Lower East Side, and went on to collaborate with major figures including Grace Jones and Bill T. Jones. In 1980—the year of the present work—Haring met the graffiti artist Angel Ortiz (‘LA II’), who had a significant impact on his life, and would contribute to some of his most important creations. While Haring’s art is often seen as promoting a utopian world view, however—one in which differences in gender, race and sexuality were freely accepted—Montez highlights the importance of acknowledging the complexity of the artist’s vantage point. The present work’s protagonist, for example, is fundamentally different to Basquiat’s depictions of black deities and heroes, which were forged from the perspective of his existence in a white-dominated art world. Haring himself was deeply aware of such injustices, and would explicitly engage with issues of white oppression in his art: notably his Free South Africa painting and poster of 1985, as well as his monumental painting in tribute to the death of Michael Stewart that same year.

The work is also distinguished by its curiously self-reflexive quality. Its euphoric, worshipping crowd conjures scenes from Paradise Garage in SoHo, where Haring and his Dominican lover Juan Dubose would dance as resident DJ Larry Levan led revellers to ecstatic ‘peaks’. Interestingly, Haring returned to this motif in his bronze altarpiece The Life of Christ of 1990, created just weeks before his untimely death from AIDS-related complications at the age of 31. In the years that followed, a spiritual fervour would come to surround him and his work, with icons such as the ‘radiant baby’ continuing to offer hope and comfort to future generations. For Haring, who described art-making as ‘transcendent’ in and of itself, the work’s semi-religious narrative is eerily prophetic of his own reception: his creations, ultimately, would outlive him. ‘We are that radiant child and have spent our lives defending that little baby’, wrote Ricard, ‘constructing an adult around it to protect it from the unlisted signals of forces we have no control over. We are that little baby, the radiant child, and our name, what we are to become, is outside us’ (R. Ricard, ibid., p. 43).

With thanks to Ricardo Montez.

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