Keith Haring (American, 1958-1990) Untitled, 1983

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Lot 9
Keith Haring
(American, 1958-1990)
Untitled, 1983

Sold for US$ 4,220,075 inc. premium
Keith Haring (American, 1958-1990)
Untitled, 1983

signed, with the artist's monogram and dated 'K. Haring Oct. 29 83' (on the reverse)
acrylic on vinyl tarpaulin

119 x 120 1/2 in.
302.3 x 306 cm.


  • This work is accompanied by a certificate of authenticity issued by the Keith Haring Studio, LLC, New York.

    Collection of the Artist, New York
    Salvatore Ala Collection, Milan
    Private Collection, Milan (by descent from the above)
    Private Collection, New York (acquired from the above)
    Acquired directly from the above by the present owner

    Venice, The Venice Biennale, XLI Esposizione Internazionale d'Arte: Aperto 84, 10 June-9 September 1984, p. 247, illustrated in black and white
    Rome, Palazzo delle Esposizioni, Arte di Frontiera. New York Graffiti, 11 September-21 October 1984, p. 83, illustrated in color
    Paris, ARC Musée d'art Moderne de la Ville de Paris, Figuration Libre, 20 December 1984-17 February 1985, p. 49, illustrated in color (image reversed)
    Gallarate, Civica Galleria d'Arte Moderna, Nel mondo della Graffiti Art, 17 September-11 November 1995, p. 34, illustrated in color
    Turin, Castello di Rivoli, DIRE AIDS: Art in the Age of AIDS, 5 May-4 June 2000, p. 81, illustrated in color (image reversed)

    Elisabeth Sussman, Keith Haring, New York 1997, p. 196, illustrated in black and white (installation view)
    Adriana Polveroni, 'Volti e immagini dell'Aids per capire e battere il virus' in la Repubblica, 16 May 2000, illustrated in color on the la Repubblica website (image reversed)
    Götz Adriani Ed., Keith Haring - Heaven and Hell, Ostfildern-Ruit 2001, p. 14, illustrated in black and white (installation view)
    Jeffrey Deitch, Suzanne Geiss, Julia Gruen, Keith Haring, New York 2008, p. 244, illustrated in color
    Peter Baum, Texte und Photographien, Vienna 2009, p. 111, illustrated in black and white (partial installation view) and p. 112, illustrated in black and white (partial installation view)

    Impressive in scale and radiating with unabashed vibrance, Keith Haring's Untitled (1983) is one of the artist's masterworks. Coming to auction for the first time, having its inaugural viewing alongside the 1984 Venice Biennale, this is the work's first public exhibition in over a decade.

    Born to a suburban middle-class family in Reading, Pennsylvania, Keith Haring showed an interest in art and popular culture at an early age. Raised on Disney cartoons, Mickey Mouse was an early favorite of Haring's, one who he liked to draw, a skill he picked up from his cartoonist father. His artistic ambitions and sensibilities were fine tuned in New York City in 1978, where Haring was a student at the School of Visual Arts.

    Haring arrived in the city on the cusp of the 1980s, a period considered a turning point in the city's rich history. Emerging on its knees from near bankruptcy in the 1970s, 1980s New York was fast, furious, loud, creative, dangerous and decadent. Everything and everyone was converging: high art and low brow culture merged, the lines that separated uptown and downtown began to blur, everything seemed possible. Fellow artists including Jean-Michel Basquiat and Kenny Scharf were also joining the scene and bringing their own unique voice to the milieu.

    In this melting pot, Haring began creating his famous, and now mostly lost, 'Subway Drawings'. Immediately making a name for himself in New York's underground (literally and figuratively) and using these often-fleeting creations to try new ideas and develop imagery. From there, his first solo exhibition came quickly and was held at the Westbeth Painters' Space in 1981. That same year Haring organized Beyond Words at the Mudd Club. Afrika Bambaataa was the D.J. at the opening party, heralding in a new era in collaboration and creativity. In 1982, Haring made his Soho gallery debut with a one-man exhibition at the Tony Shafrazi Gallery, signaling the beginning of the fame and recognition that would make him one of the defining artists of not just the decade but the second half of the Twentieth Century.

    The present work was executed soon after, on 29 October 1983 and its exhibition history draws close parallels with Haring's international rise to fame during this period. In the summer of 1984 the work would be displayed alongside that year's Venice Biennale part of Aperto 84 ('Open 84'), a new initiative conceived for the 1980 iteration. Aperto 84 was curated that year by John Roberts, the British critic and writer, and Haring's works were displayed alongside Richard Hambleton amongst others.

    Within days of being in Venice, it would be displayed at the Palazzo della Espozioni in Rome. Much of Haring's exhibitions and connections with Italy were thanks to Salvatore Ala, who would own the present work for much of its early history. Ala was a famed Italian gallerist who championed many cutting-edge movements and artists including Arte Povera, Antony Gormley and Anselm Kiefer, who are now considered the protagonists of the period. Ala introduced Haring to Italy, a country which Haring quickly embraced, and hosted the first exhibition of the artist's work in 1984. Haring's own journals fondly reminisce of his weeks in Italy during this period, even remarking on Ala's delivery of Coca-Cola and pizza for a late lunch every day.

    Untitled is quintessentially Haring, whilst also being a work from a singular time in New York. Arguably one of Haring's most complex works compositionally, it also carries a strong message. The work explodes with color, buzzing with fluorescent pink and pops of yellow. Theoretically simple in execution and only employing three colors, the work remains deeply dynamic - pulling the eye across its highly worked surface. Haring's signature figures, characters with whom we have all become deeply familiar with in the cultural zeitgeist, can be found throughout the work: an angel, a dog and dancing figures all move, dance and jump throughout it. It also seems however to be a warning about the complications of unprotected sex. Mickey Mouse, a subject of fascination for Haring who appears throughout his oeuvre, is seen contemplating sex with a second figure, perhaps the devil. A figure wearing a gas mask, which can also be interpreted as a screw – an example of Haring's strong ability to create double entendre – is placed between the figures of a devil and angel. The angel signaling not just an alternative to the devil – seen at the lower right-hand side of the composition with the trident, symbolically used throughout art history when depicting a demon – but also even alluding to death that might befall him from this choice.

    By 1983, New York, and much of the world was gripped with the AIDS epidemic. Described early on as a "rare cancer" in The New York Times in 1981, New York was affected particularly badly and more heavily than many cities. Stigmatized and deeply misunderstood by the Ronald Reagan administration, it would take years for HIV and AIDS to be studied, making the first decade of its curse all the more virulent. Whilst not exclusive to the gay community, AIDS was felt particularly strongly in it. As a gay man, Haring was very much part of this culture and community, and he would quickly become a strong advocate for both Gay Rights and the AIDS activism that would spring up in the wake of the virus' discovery. Seeing himself as both an artist and an activist from the outset, Haring would use his skills as a communicator through images to help educate and activate change around the world. The fear that would grip the city for much of the 1980s is exhibited here with a looming gas mask figure appearing in its midst. Yet, despite this fear and chaos, there is also joy and life, a juxtaposition that would define much of Haring's best work.

    Mickey Mouse is a staple character in Haring's practice, one of the few not conceived from within his own imagination. The son of an illustrator, Haring grew up tracing and drawing the mouse as he developed his own hand as a draftsman. Disney seems to have been a topic of fascination for Haring even as a young adult, writing on 23 May 1977 about a trip to Disneyland "What a trip! It was like another world" (Keith Haring Journals, London 2010, p. 5).

    Mickey remains inescapable from immediate recognition but his force as a cultural figure in the post-war period cannot be understated. So much so that Roy Lichtenstein, the grand master of Pop Art, would use Mickey in one of his earliest paintings Look Mickey (1961) which is now in the collection of the National Gallery of Art, Washington. Andy Warhol, a friend of Haring's, also depicted the iconic mouse as part of his Myths series alongside other immediately recognizable figures such as Superman and Santa Claus. Haring certainly took inspiration from the Pop movement, but he also used Mickey as a naïve, child-like figure in his works, using him to instill joy and innocence in paintings which simultaneously capture the grit and darkness of the 1980s.

    In addition to the Pop artists, many of whom he knew personally, Haring's works also grow out of the legacy of Jean Dubuffet whom he looked to throughout his career. In his journal on 7 November 1978 Haring wrote, "I hope I am not vain in thinking that I may be exploring possibilities that artists like Stuart Davis, Jackson Pollock, Jean Dubuffet and Pierre Alechinsky have initiated but did not resolve. Their ideas are living ideas." On 7 July 1986 Haring continues to espouse his admiration for Dubuffet when he writes that Dubuffet's speech at the Art Institute of Chicago on the misconception of beauty in Western culture is "one of my favorite things written by another artist" (Keith Haring Journals, New York 2010, p. 129). Dubuffet's works perfectly synthesize post-war Paris in new ways whilst employing revolutionary mediums. Works such as Houel de Virtuel (1963) use discrete sections of color and line to imply the dizzying frenzy of Paris in the midst of post-war recovery. In that vein, Haring's works such as Untitled use modern materials, such as the tarp and fluorescent paint in a hip-hop mash-up of graffiti, animation, and cartooning to truly capture the energy of 1980s New York.

    A particular admirer of the artist Christo, Haring viewed himself from the beginning as a public artist. Some of Haring's most celebrated works are murals bedecking locations around the world from the Berlin Wall, to the Princess Grace Maternity Hospital, Monaco to public pools and billboards around New York City. His interest in this kind of public art, painted on a grand, almost historical scale, is also seen in the present work where the artist paints on a monumental tarpaulin measuring almost ten feet square (three meters). The tarp connects the work to the street art culture that was taking place around him yet also allows for the work to travel and be displayed internationally, furthering his message arguably more than a mural could.

    Beyond murals, Haring had become the artist behind many of the social activism campaigns of the decade. Devoid of unnecessary details, his works displayed the power evident in simple imagery which saw them quickly used for causes associated with UNICEF, AIDS, literacy and even the fight against apartheid in South Africa. He was highly sought-after to participate in collaborative projects with children and corporations, bringing his work to a large international audience from the outset.

    The rest of the decade was prolific and busy for Haring with his international recognition continuing to rise through exhibitions at major institutions globally including at the Stedelijk Museum, Amsterdam, The Whitney Museum of American Art, New York, the Musée d'Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris, the Hirshhorn Museum, Washington, The Louisiana Museum of Art, Humlebæk and the Institute of Contemporary Art, London.

    Haring was diagnosed with AIDS in 1988. In 1989, he established the Keith Haring Foundation, its mandate being to provide funding and imagery to AIDS organizations and children's programs, and to expand the audience for Haring's work through exhibitions, publications and the licensing of his images. Haring enlisted his imagery during the last years of his life to speak about his own illness and generate activism and awareness about AIDS. Keith Haring died in New York City at the age of 31 on February 16, 1990. Thousands of mourners attended his memorial a few months later.

    Despite his premature death, Haring's legacy was immediate and long lasting. Career retrospectives began in 1993 in Japan and continued in Miami, San Francisco, Montreal, New York, Toronto, Madrid, Vienna, Sydney and Wellington. Later this year the Tate Liverpool will stage the artist's first UK retrospective. Haring's virtuostic ability to render joy, life, sadness and strong messages using simple lines and recurring figures has made him arguably one of the most internationally recognized artists around the world. With some of his murals still intact, and much of his other imagery experiencing an even further reach in the Internet world, his legacy and importance intensifies to this day.

    Glowing with effervescent colors and humming with movement, works of this scale, medium and year, are extremely rare on the market. Indicative of the social and artistic scene of the 1980s, as well as Haring's singular gift for monumental public art, Untitled remains a superlative example of Keith Haring's practice that would influence not just artists but humanity the world over for the decades since his death.

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Keith Haring (American, 1958-1990) Untitled, 1983
Keith Haring (American, 1958-1990) Untitled, 1983
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