ART: Early On, Haring’s Work (and Play) Embodied NYC

NOTE: Exhibit artwork photographed for this article courtesy Collection Keith Haring Foundation © Keith Haring Foundation.


“The public needs art, and it is the responsibility of a ‘self-proclaimed artist’ to realize the public needs art, and not to make bourgeois art for a few and ignore the masses”_ Keith Haring, journal entry, Oct. 14, 1978.

The exhibit, Keith Haring: 1978-1982, runs March 16-July 8 at the Brooklyn Museum and consists of a stunning amount of archival objects _ experimental videos, journals, sketchbooks, posters, photographs and subway drawings by the prolific artist. It chronicles the evolution of Haring’s creative expression upon his arrival to New York City from Pennsylvania through the years he began his studio practice and signature style of street art anchored by social messages.

According to the Keith Haring Foundation site, in 1980, “Haring found a highly effective medium that allowed him to communicate with the wider audience he desired, when he noticed the unused advertising panels covered with matte black paper in a subway station. He began to create drawings in white chalk … between 1980 and 1985, Haring produced hundreds of these public drawings in rapid rhythmic lines, sometimes creating as many as 40 ‘subway drawings’ in one day. This seamless flow of images became familiar to New York commuters, who often would stop to engage the artist when they encountered him at work.”

Haring enrolled in the School of Visual Arts when he came to New York, and eventually flourished among a vibrant, emerging underground art community, which included friends and gifted artists such as Jean-Michel Basquiat (pictured below with Haring) and Kenny Scharf. Haring embraced the downtown scene with its loose mix of graffiti writers, musicians and performance artists. Music that defined that era factors prominently in the Brooklyn Museum exhibit as visitors walk through a section where sounds of The Clash, Grace Jones, Prince, B-52s and others play in the background during a slideshow of Haring’s subway pieces. Some of the works selected for this particular exhibit have never been on public view.

One of the exhibit’s captivating moments comes while watching video of a lanky, shirtless Haring literally paint himself into a corner while listening to Devo.

Haring was born May, 4, 1958, in Reading, Pa., and raised in nearby Kutztown, Pa. He died of AIDS-related complications at 31.


Keith Haring Foundation:

Brooklyn Museum:

“The Universe of Keith Haring” documentary trailer:

NY Magazine article on Haring:

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