Keith Haring (American, 1958–1990) Untitled, 1982. Sumi ink on paper. 107 x 208 in. (271.8 x 528.3 cm) Collection Keith Haring Foundation. © Keith Haring Foundation
The Keith Haring show now up at The Brooklyn Museum seems almost exclusively to be works from the Keith Haring Foundation. Which I take to mean both not sold and not for sale. I haven’t a clue who runs the foundation or why – but this ownership may also mean that these works haven’t been seen that often.
It doesn’t matter. You’ve seen Keith Haring already. Nothing has changed since I first saw those white chalk on black underpaper drawings in subway advertising niches back in the day. Boy, someone went to art shool, I thought. And how smart to know the chalk would be hard to erase.
Silly me. He or his friends took some pretty good photos it seems. Some are in this show. Including some that show hilarious counterpoint to the commercial ads on the left or the right. And some enterprising soul (Haring himself?) carefully knifed them off the wall as well. Some of these are in this show.
Clearly Haring worked like a freight train… There must be thousands of Haring drawings and paintings well beyond the ones in this large exhibition. He worked hard, this show shows, to develop a shorthand language that he could unleash anywhere any how. You know them. The crawling baby. The jumping man. The barking dog.
Some of the earliest works, before he developed his repertory, reveal a monstrously talented kid who simply loved being engaged in the doing of it. Hooked on, lost in, floating on the alpha waves. Thus the set pieces.He figured out a way to make that flow state instantly available to him always.
The remarkable thing is his utter affability, his likeability. Geeze what sweetheart – even when his subject matter is torture or pain – and there are some images with terrifying implications – or self mocking, or when it’s jubilant pornography. Even when his scale is gigantic like “Matrix” ink on paper, 1983 — is it 50 feet long? — and demanding of one’s time in order to allow the images to roil and romp and resolve themselves. He’s always affable.
And happiness is such an unnatural state.
Show’s on until July 8. Go. Enjoy.