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

Untitled (Subway Drawing)

Details
Keith Haring (1958-1990)
Untitled (Subway Drawing)
chalk on two joined sheets of paper on board, in original aluminum mount
49 x 67 7/8 x 7/8 in. (124.5 x 172.4 x 2.2 cm.)
Executed circa 1982-1984.
Provenance
Private collection, New York
Private collection, Miami
Acquired from the above by the present owner
Literature
Keith Haring: Subway Drawings, exh. cat., Berlin, Galerie Nikolaus Sonne, 1990, pp. 44 and 80 (illustrated).
G. Mercurio, ed., Keith Haring: In Search of the Roots of Art, Paris and Barcelona, 2014, n.p., no. 19 (illustrated).

Exhibited
Milan, Palazzo Reale, Keith Haring: About Art, February-June 2017, n.p. (illustrated).
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Sale Room Notice
Please note the provenance for this lot is as follows:

Private collection, New York
Private collection, Miami
Acquired from the above by the present owner

Brought to you by

Emily Kaplan
Emily Kaplan

Lot Essay

“The whole beauty of the drawings is that they were so simple. They told a story that you could see from a moving train and you could get it.”
- Keith Haring
Keith Haring’s iconic visual vernacular, dynamically illustrated in Untitled (Subway Drawing), established him as an important American muralist and graffiti artist of the 20th century. The work belongs to Haring’s legendary Subway Drawing series of crisp white chalk drawings on the matte black paper that was pasted over expired advertisements in the New York City subway stations. Created at the height of Haring’s career, Untitled (Subway Drawing) is an exceptional work, as it remains mounted in the original aluminum subway station advertisement frame. Haring imbued social and political meaning though the drawn figures’ relationship to one another. Here, two stylized figures run and dance towards each other, their stretched out reaching arms encircled by a radiating heart. Depicting the fundamental message of devout humanism and love, Haring’s genderless and race-less figures race to each other, captured moments before an embrace. He once described: “The whole beauty of the drawings is that they were so simple. They told a story that you could see from a moving train and you could get it.” (K. Haring, quoted in J. Deitch, Keith Haring, New York, 2008, p. 105). The entire work is staged in a frame of white chalk lining the perimeter of the sheet, referencing the television screen and the comic strip box, which came to define the decade. As Haring’s Subway Drawings quickly became a New York City phenomenon, he rose to international fame with a signature style that the entire city was following.
Growing up in the 1960s, Haring’s art and political beliefs were shaped by the radical politics of the decade and Vietnam war. He believed the job of an artist was to be a provocateur that spoke against the inequity and injustice of society, organized power, religion, and political structures. These activist ideas were relayed not only in Haring’s art, but also in his artistic process and method. While in art school in New York City, Haring pasted headlines of newspapers as urban statements in public places in order to reach a diverse audiences. With his call of ‘art for everyone,’ Haring believed that art should not be reserved in museums and galleries for the elite and created artworks in non-traditional places. He 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).
Using the public environment as a platform for his art to reach people on a greater scale, Haring took his rebel pastings to the next level with his iconic Subway Drawings. The pivotal series used the subway as a laboratory of communication and engagement. Between 1980 and 1985, Haring created several hundreds of billboards in New York subway stations – an ideal platform that made his art accessible and participatory, as well as rally a generation to change policies and tackle social ills for a better future with his stylized vernacular.
Unveiled at the Galerie Nikolaus Sonne in 1990 shortly after its creation circa 1982-1984, Untitled (Subway Drawing) is an outstanding example of Haring’s guerilla drawings. In the New York subway systems, expired advertisements were covered with empty black sheets of paper, awaiting their next poster. Haring serendipitously began this endeavor when he noticed a black panel in the Times Square subway station, and thought “it was the perfect surface waiting” (K. Haring, quoted in J. Deitch, Keith Haring, New York, 2008, p. 104). Seizing these blank slates with a soft matted quality as backgrounds, he drew on them with chalk for their crisp effect. Haring used the vocabulary of his identifiable symbols that granted him international and commercial success, such as radiant baby, the barking dog, the hovering angel, the flying saucer, among others, to capture the imaginations of New Yorkers.
Haring completed the drawings before bustling New York commuters, and often interrupted his ride and exited a subway car to draw on a blank paper posted on the station platform. Many times, Haring made up to 40 drawings a day. When the images were not cut and torn from the aluminum mount by admirers, another black paper was eventually layered over them as a base for an advertisement poster. The routine disappearance of these works gave Haring incentive to replenish them. As a result, most of the Subway Drawings were unrecorded, becoming perhaps the most epic ephemeral project that took place in the New York underground.
The 1980s was the peak of the underground graffiti street culture in New York, a period when artists moved beyond making art on traditional canvas to just about anything, including subway cars and building facades. Haring arrived to New York City as a young artist during these years, appropriating the language of graffiti as a method of artistic expression. He quickly joined the city’s graffiti and alternative art community that included Jean-Michel Basquiat, Kenny Sharf, and Futura 2000, artists who worked outside the restrictions and elitism of galleries and museums. While he never identified himself as a graffiti artist, Haring was caught and fined numerous times for vandalism and defacing public property while making works such as Untitled (Subway Drawing). But like graffiti, the repetitive and permutation of Haring’s expressive signs conflate studio practice, street art, Pop art, public art and cartoons to address social change and universal themes on a plane that is both multilayered yet readily understandable.

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