Brooklyn Museum, Prospect Heights, Brooklyn, NYC
The Big Show is a new series in which we talk about the biggest shows in New York's most important museums, and fill you in on why they might matter to someone without a degree in art history.
Until this Sunday, you will have the chance to see Keith Haring’s journals, videos, sumi ink drawings, subway murals (taken—rather, peeled—straight from the walls), and more at the Brooklyn Museum of Art.
An artist whose idiosyncratic work and visual vocabulary electrified, subverted, and pleasured, Keith Haring was tremendously successful in the way that mattered to him most: he communicated beauty, and socially conscious, provocative imagery to a wide range of people.
“I am interested in making art to be experienced and explored by as many individuals as possible,” he wrote in a 1978 journal. “The viewer creates the reality, the meaning, the conception of the piece. I am merely a middleman trying to bring together ideas.”
Pretty humble for a guy whose drawings (all created before his death by complications of AIDS at 31) have been so iconic and resonant. Fans of fashion will know Keith Haring as the inspiration for Adicolor, Jeremy Scott’s collection of fresh kicks for Adidas. Or they will know him from Rihanna’s “Rude Boy " in which the pop singer dances in a black and white Keith Haring-ed room wearing a sexy, contoured romper, riding a zebra. Or from Kanye West's shaved head. Or even from collections by Zara, Uniqlo, Tommy Hilfiger, Patricia Fields, Obey Clothing, and Noir Jewelry. These works mainly take inspiration from his abstract shapes and designs in black and white.
The Brooklyn Museum retrospective showcases a wider range of work that will surely inspire fans who have yet to discover his saucy videos (do yourself a favor and see: Tribute to Gloria Vanderbilt), sumi ink drawings, and subway art.
The show narrates Haring’s development of a distinctive and pared-down visual language using over 150 archival objects, 155 works on paper, and videos (with delicious strains of Devo). These pieces, and the accompanying texts, quoting his journals and favorite philosophers, paint a picture (trace a drawing?) of a sophisticated artist whose non-hierarchical art drew from a range of sources, from ancient hieroglyphics to breakdance.
The son of Kutztown, Pennsylvania, Keith Haring moved to New York in 1978 to study at the School of Visual Arts. There, he would help define the aesthetic of the downtown 80’s art scene, along with his crew of art superstars. His buddy Jean-Michel Basquiat was another titan of non-hierarchical art. If you look closely you’ll find a shoutout to the fabulous painter in “Rude Boy” where a white crown flashes out of Rihanna’s solar plexus.
Haring’s humans celebrate everything. They generate an energy so tangible it actually flows out of them in thick, black lines. Even Haring's darkest work, which tackles the mounting HIV/AIDS epidemic in 1980’s New York, homophobia, apartheid, and more, will vibrate through and inspire you.
And so, his drawings, while quintessentially eighties, mementos of the old, grimy New York trains and kicks, are timeless: they will resonate with viewers of all generations who see the complicated world as a dynamic and vibrant place.
Keith Haring: 1978-1982 will be open at the Brooklyn Museum of Art through July 8th.