THE UNIVERSE OF KEITH HARING
THE UNIVERSE OF KEITH HARING
Publication:
New York Post

Press Excerpt:
October 26, 2008

“Street Heart”

By Sara Stewart

OF ALL THE NEW YORKERS who ever scribbled their names or doodled on a subway platform, building wall or billboard, Keith Haring is undoubtedly the best known. You likely recognize his work by its squiggles and line-drawn figures. Perhaps you even recall his "Radiant Baby" figure. You may have caught a glimpse of his "Crack Is Wack" mural on a Harlem handball court as you sped down the FDR.

This May would have been Haring's 50th birthday, had he not died in 1990 of complications due to AIDS. To celebrate the occasion, the city is bursting with love for one of its most generous artists, who created dozens of public murals while in his prime.

There's a reconstruction of his 1982 mural at the intersection of Houston Street and the Bowery; an upcoming exhibit of his monumental "Ten Commandments," which have never been seen in the US; and a new documentary, "The Universe of Keith Haring," which was released Friday.

He's also turning up in high-profile pop-culture happenings. For her "Sticky and Sweet" tour, Madonna has ginned up a segment in which she jumps rope with animated characters inspired by Haring, a good friend of hers from the boom days of the '80s art world. And this year's Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade will feature a Haring balloon. Christina Clausen, director of "The Universe of Keith Haring," joined three of Haring's closest friends to tell The Post why we should never let Haring's memory fade.

Kenny Scharf, pop artist: [Keith and I] were roommates. We were real close. I was with him when he started doing his chalk drawings in the subway. I witnessed a lot of those.

Tony Shafrazi, artist, gallery owner: He would take trains, [going] from station to station, getting off and doing one or two drawings. He'd go all the way to Harlem and back to Brooklyn, and then change lines. So within months there were thousands of these drawings.

Of the millions of people who go into this subterranean world, 80 or 90 percent of them never go to museums. So he was really utilizing this world to communicate.

Scharf: Doing illegal art is scary, and you are taking a big risk. He was arrested, I was arrested, everyone was. It was a much different city then.

Shafrazi: The idea of improvising was very important. None of the work, whether small or large, had any preliminary sketches. He would finish it with everything fitting together like a jigsaw puzzle.

Jeffrey Deitch, gallery owner: Keith's work was a conflation of the hip-hop music coming from the South Bronx, in the rhythm of the work, and the gay-dance-club music that was thriving downtown, and then the work of the wild-style [graffiti] artists. He was friends with lots of them. Something I admired about Keith very much was his commitment to working in public, that he wanted to make art for the people. And he did, till the end of his life.

Shafrazi: For an [anti-nuclear] rally in Central Park, in 1982, he designed a flyer. He made 20,000 copies of it, and stood there with one or two friends and gave them away. He would make contact with people - the initial point of contact was very important. He didn't want barriers between the haves and have nots. His art was conscientious. That's what we miss in art today.

Clausen: In Pisa was the largest mural he ever did. And the incredible thing is it's done on the back of a church, which is a really revolutionary thing if you think about it. He was invited, being a gay artist and having publicly stated that he had AIDS, to do a mural on a church in a town like Pisa.

In 1986, Haring opened the Pop Shop on Lafayette Street in SoHo, where he sold T-shirts and mugs with his designs on them. It closed in 2005.

Shafrazi: The Pop Shop was not a commercial idea. He just felt that art should be available to everybody.

Clausen: It was really revolutionary then, that all of a sudden he would make his art accessible and put it on T-shirts. At the time, it was really battled by the art establishment. I think it was a big break into the perception of art, and the possibility to make it something of real life, not a thing that is reserved for the elite.

Deitch: It wasn't connected with a luxury goods company. Keith did it all by himself. He did have opportunities to collaborate with large fashion businesses, but he preferred to do it on his own so he had complete control.

Now, there's this tremendous interest in this medium of art production - T-shirts and hats and objects. But when Keith started the Pop Shop, he was one of the rare artists doing this. And it did lead to [Takashi] Murakami, and to other artists who are very influential right now.

To commemorate what would have been Haring's 50th birthday, in May Deitch and the Haring Foundation commissioned a recreation of a Haring mural on Houston Street at the Bowery.

Deitch: Like in all of Keith's work, it's very humanistic. It's an affirmation of life. His art isn't rarified art - it communicates directly with people and embraces the central things in life - joy, sexuality, spirituality. But the work always has an edge, as well. There's a sense of warning. And as the AIDS epidemic became more and more serious, the work became at the end more apocalyptic.

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