Art should always provoke, inspire and illicit some sort of emotion despite when it was originally created. Keith Haring may have passed away in 1990, but his work continues to be fresh and relevant to social topics of today, particularly in the current exhibit, THE POLITICAL LINE at the de Young – Legion of Honor Fine Arts Museum of San Francisco. The infamous stick drawings, barking dogs and baby
figures seen in countless Haring paintings were actually utilized in various settings that were in response to Haring’s political stances on nuclear war, the advances of technology, Apartheid, Racism, Capitalism, Sexuality and environmental degradation.
Truly ahead of his time, and at such a young age, Haring wanted to create art that was not only accessible, like through his subway art and chalk drawings throughout New York, but he also wanted it to be understood by all. THE POLITICAL LINE curates Haring’s work into 130 works that convey the various social issues that Haring was concerned about during his short lifespan. Topics explored in the exhibit center around the quick advances of technology and show how these advances could potentially take over natural ways to communicate. Depictions of computers replacing the heads of humans show that Haring was concerned about the future of technology taking over our lives. Actually, the artist was way ahead of his time as many of these paintings were done in the mid-1980’s. One can only imagine how Haring would feel today with our PDA’s that some critics speculate are attached to our bodies.
Haring was fearless when questioning his own white race and the atrocities that he felt his race had inflicted on the black race. In the exhibit Haring’s voice is heard in early recordings saying that he sometimes felt like a black man trapped inside a white man’s body. He went on to say he was ashamed at the way his race had handled race relations and abused his black brothers. Many of his other works tackled Apartheid, the degradation of the environment and his feelings toward Reagan-era America,
which he was strongly opposed to and unafraid to voice his concerns in his works.
Sexuality & AIDS
Haring was openly gay and incorporated his sexuality into his work. He spoke of living in New York in the 70’s and 80’s where sex between men could be found in every nook and cranny of the city at any time. He was open about his pre-occupation with sex which can be seen in his numerous sketches of penis drawings, and penis drawings that were made to resemble the New York skyline. In 1985, after seeing many of his friends, and people he had slept with contract AIDS and die, he was convinced he too was infected with the disease even before being diagnosed. Much of his work from this point on focused on the current disease he was faced with and surrounded around which questioned the dichotomy he felt between sex and the darker side of sex that ultimately could lead to death. Later work focused on promoting safer sex, which included the infamous upside down pink triangle, associated with Nazi Concentration camp badges for labeling homosexuals, filled with figures covering their face entitled, “Silence=Death”. Haring worked feverishly producing works up until his final days.
The Co-Collaborator of Haring Most People Never Heard of…
It should be noted that THE POLITICAL LINE also includes several of the sculptures produced both by Haring and a young artist by the name of Angel Ortiz, aka LA II. Haring met Ortiz on the lower east side of New York when Ortiz was only 14. Haring was impressed with Ortiz’s graffiti talent. Together they produced several works in collaboration. Ortiz, who is still alive today, often doesn’t get the attention or recognition as a major part of some of Haring’s work, something that would have likely disappointed Haring.
San Francisco and Haring
It’s important to note that the exhibition in San Francisco is also the home of two major Haring installations.”Three Dancing Figures” greets visitors at the de Young as they enter the museum. The sculpture’s home is borrowed and lives at Third and Howard Streets. It is a prominent feature of the Moscone Convention Center in San Francisco. Haring’s triptych altarpiece “The Life of Christ” is installed in the AIDS CHAPEL AT GRACE CATHEDRAL. Haring also spent some time in San Francisco creating huge outdoor murals on large canvases for the opening of the popular club of the time, DV8. The owner, Dr. Winkie was close to the artist as Haring created Winkie’s wedding invitation for the club owner. THE POLITICAL LINE opened last November in San Francisco and will remain open until February 16th. For more information visit: https://deyoung.famsf.org/haring/about