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Keith Haring (1958-1990)
DOUBLE VISION
Keith Haring (1958-1990)

Untitled

Details
Keith Haring (1958-1990)
Untitled
signed twice and dated ‘K. Haring AUG. 25 1983 K. Haring’ (on the reverse)
acrylic on tarpaulin with metal grommets
72 x 72in. (185.4 x 185.4cm.)
Painted in 1983
Provenance
Galleria Salvatore Ala, Milan.
Acquired from the above, and thence by descent to the present owner in 1984.
Exhibited
Milan, Galleria Salvatore Ala, Keith Haring, 1984.
Bologna, Galleria comunale d’arte moderna di Bologna, Arte di Frontiera: New York Graffiti, 1984. p. 133, no. 2 (illustrated in colour, p. 83).

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Lot Essay

‘It is as though his pulsating images have already danced their way into the atavistic chambers of the collective mind, as if his characters are now somehow imprinted on ribbons of DNA to be transmitted genetically to future generations’
(B. Blinderman, ‘And We All Shine On’, in G. Celant (ed.), Keith Haring, Munich 1992, p. 27).

‘Drawn with urgency, clarity, and brazen simplicity, Haring’s characters whisk us from the mysteries of ancient ritual to the hallucinatory interface of biology and technology in our cybernetic futurenow’
(B. Blinderman, ‘And We All Shine On’, in G. Celant (ed.), Keith Haring, Munich 1992, p. 28).

‘Keith went naked into the world as the perfect boy-child of the electronic age. Like the youthful Rimbaud, he too will be acknowledged as a prophetic figure and one of the most endearing young oracles of the chaotic modern age, opening the way for a new utopic era of fraternal feeling and self-realization’
(T. Shafrazi, quoted in Keith Haring, exh. cat., Shafrazi Gallery, New York, 1990, unpaged).

In Keith Haring’s Untitled, man and dolphin evolve and devolve in an impossibly short-circuited metamorphic cycle. Against a vibrant yellow and red background, a black sun rises upon new evolutionary dawn – or sets upon a genetically-modified dystopia. Executed in 1983, the work exemplifies the visionary urban language that Haring cultivated at the height of New York’s hip-hop heyday. As human and aquarian forms cross-contaminate, a heady mix of mythology, science fiction, cartoon imagery and graffiti pulses to a high-octane drumbeat – a hypnotic rhythm both ancient and contemporary. As the mutant creatures rotate from sea to sky in their mesmerizing orbital dance, Haring draws us into his circular, hybrid world, where ancestral legend collides with futuristic fantasy. Characteristically painted on tarpaulin, the work exudes all the untold mysteries of a pre-historic cave painting. At the same time, it speaks the language of an altogether different tribe: the untamed band of artists and musicians who ruled the streets and subways of 1980s New York. Along with Jean-Michel Basquiat, Haring was one of its leaders: yet, like Basquiat, he would not live to see the following decade unfold. Writing shortly after the artist’s untimely death, Barry Blinderman claimed ‘It is as though his pulsating images have already danced their way into the atavistic chambers of the collective mind, as if his characters are now somehow imprinted on ribbons of DNA to be transmitted genetically to future generations’ (B. Blinderman, ‘And We All Shine On’, in G. Celant (ed.), Keith Haring, Munich 1992, p. 27). With its otherworldly circle of life, Untitled embodies this very dynamic.

In 1983, Haring was in his prime. Just two years earlier, he had been hailed as one of the most innovative artists of the decade in Rene Ricard’s seminal article ‘The Radiant Child’, titled after Haring’s own now-iconic motif. Following his first solo exhibition in New York, Haring made his debut in Soho with a hugely successful show at the Tony Shafrazi Gallery in 1982, paving the way for a steady rise to international acclaim in the years that followed. Like Basquiat, who began life as an unknown street artist, Haring came to prominence within New York’s sprawling system of subways. Upon the blank, black boards awaiting new advertisements, Haring’s pictorial universe came to life in chalk, populated by babies, barking dogs, angels, cartoon people, spaceships – and dolphins. As time went on, Haring’s unique brand of techno-primitivism was transferred to canvas, spawning a network of biomorphic mutations – strange bestial fusions of men and animals, born of ancient mythology and contemporary science fiction in equal measure. In his complex network of aesthetic codes, historical motifs and everyday signifiers, Haring sought ‘a more holistic and basic idea of wanting to incorporate [art] into every part of life, less as an egotistical exercise and more natural somehow. I don’t know how to exactly explain it. Taking it off the pedestal. I’m giving it back to the people, I guess’ (K. Haring, quoted in D. Drenger, ‘Art and Life: An Interview with Keith Haring,’ in Columbia Art Review, Spring 1988, p. 53).

Haring’s legacy has ultimately brought this desire to fruition. As Blinderman writes, ‘Adolescents in Japan draw Haringese on subway station walls. Haring imagery turns up in clothing shops in Australia, on “help the homeless” signs posted at Orly airpoit, in greeting card stores in San Francisco, on chopstick wrappers at a Manhattan restaurant’ (B. Blinderman, ‘And We All Shine On’, in G. Celant (ed.), Keith Haring, Munich 1992, pp. 27-28). Interestingly, the latter of these examples – the chopstick wrapper design at ISO restaurant in New York – is in fact an inverted version of the present painting. It is perhaps fitting that a work so intricately bound up with ideas of circularity should have spiralled its way out of the confines of art and into the most basic domain of everyday life. It was this type of universality that Haring’s polymorphic visual language sought to achieve. As Tony Shafrazi has written, ‘Keith went naked into the world as the perfect boy-child of the electronic age. Like the youthful Rimbaud, he too will be acknowledged as a prophetic figure and one of the most endearing young oracles of the chaotic modern age, opening the way for a new utopic era of fraternal feeling and self-realization’ (T. Shafrazi, quoted in Keith Haring, exh. cat., Shafrazi Gallery, New York, 1990, unpaged).

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