The two dancing figures in Untitled perfectly capture the liberal spirit of the underground New York club culture of the early 1980s. As a regular of the famous Paradise Garage, the first multi-cultural gay club in New York where he often spent entire weekends in the company of people like Andy Warhol, Grace Jones and Madonna, and whose walls he covered with murals, Keith Haring was obsessed with music and dance. The dancer is in fact a crucial motif in the artist’s celebrated oeuvre, and is here captured in a vivid composition of two figures whose arms pulsate to the rhythm of the beat – or perhaps the multiplication of their limbs suggests the rapidly flashing strobe lights of a night club. The neon-pink background of the present work certainly brings to mind the fluorescent day-glo paint that Haring occasionally used in his work, and which lit up under the ultraviolet lights of a nightclub.
Like most of Keith Haring’s signature motifs, the dancer is a reflection of the artist’s interest in a non-academic art addressed at the public; inspired by Warhol’s public persona but also by Jean Dubuffet’s early interest in sub-cultures and alternative aesthetics. For Haring, as for Warhol or Dubuffet, this was a decidedly political choice. Dance not only embodied a celebration of life, but also brought attention to a sub-culture that was, if not blatantly ignored by the political establishment, largely marginalised. The New York gay scene in the 1980s was still a battleground for acceptance, as was indeed the case for most identity politics. The emerging club scene with places such as the Paradise Garage offered an alternative to the conservative mainstream and captured the emphasis on personal freedom and expression that has always been at the centre of Keith Haring’s work.
Untitled from 1982 stands as a powerful testament to Keith Haring’s life and work. Not only does it vividly capture the artist’s instantly recognisable aesthetic, it also demonstrates the unmatched immediacy of his paintings and his constant political engagement through one of his signature motifs. At once joyous and rebellious, the work represents the spirit of a generation in an exciting display of technical brilliance and visual power.
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