- Keith Haring
- signed and dated May 29 1988 NYC on the overlap
- acrylic on vinyl tarpaulin with metal grommets
Acquired by the present owner from the above in 1988
Dazzlingly vibrant and brimming with sublime positivity, Keith Haring’s sprawling Untitled from 1988 is a characteristic ode to the joys of life from one of the most upbeat and confident artistic voices of our time. Created in the final years of Haring’s short life, Untitled is a seminal example of the artist’s celebration of music and movement despite the overwhelming challenges of the decade. Across the monumental tarp, Haring depicted a version of the “spider move,” a dance step popularized in the 1980s in which various dancers intertwined their bodies, fusing into a cohesive whole. As single figures’ legs morph whimsically into others’ arms, we are gripped by a contorted sprawl of kinetic compositional clarity that bursts with the effusive spirit so resolutely Haring. The bold chromatic spectrum of blues, purples, greens, reds, and oranges that dominate the figures in their nearly grid-like formation are at once lyrical and balanced, conveying a potent energy that enlivens the picture with strong emotive power. For Haring, the dance move becomes a broader symbol of life and coexistence. As Robert Farris Thompson described, "spider-moves define beauty in relation to design and shared space. When b-boys [street dancers] combine in the spider-move pattern, they are not merely dancing. They are living a principle: work with your brother, share space in relation to time. Haring expands on that. It turns into an emblem." (Robert Farris Thompson, Haring and the Dance, Keith Haring, New York, 1997, p. 218)
Arriving in New York City in 1978, Haring was immediately drawn to the urban music and graffiti scene, working alongside other artists who were also to become legends of their time, such as Jean-Michel Basquiat and Kenny Scharf. Music and the urban culture surrounding it proved to be a major source of inspiration for the artist early on: “All kinds of new things were starting. In music, it was the punk and New Wave scenes… And there was the club scene – the Mudd Club and Club 57, at St. Mark’s Place, in the basement of a Polish church, which became our hangout, a clubhouse, where we could do whatever we wanted.” (the artist in conversation with David Sheff in "Keith Haring, An Intimate Conversation," Rolling Stone, August 1989, n.p.) The extraordinary sensation of rhythm that pervades the present work and other large scale tarps of this year can surely be connected to the artist’s deep understanding and love of this alternative and highly original music scene at the time. Untitled demonstrates the ways in which Haring’s work developed in expressive scope from the first half of the 1980s, indicating a new aesthetic maturity and creative profundity that signify the work of an artist at the apex of his powers.
Three years prior to the execution of the present work, the arts community in New York was ravaged by the tragic development of the AIDS epidemic in New York. Even in the face of AIDS, a disease to which Haring himself succumbed tragically in 1990, the present work retains the artist’s distinct positive energy; rather than devolving into injury, misery, anxiety, or death, Untitled illustrates Haring’s unique appreciation of human relationships and intense, receptive embrace of all walks of life. As Henry Geldzahler observed, “It was in the face of this tragic dimension that Keith’s generosity and love of his audience was played out, above all in the spontaneity and high energy of his work right up to the end; Keith produced a tuneful art that sets us humming.” (Henry Geldzahler cited in Exh. Cat., St. Louis, Philip Samuels Fine Art, Keith Haring, 1990)
In its astonishingly assured compositional structure and astounding candor, Untitled deserves to be considered as a work of immense significance within Haring’s oeuvre, embodying the dizzying energy and sense of possibility that existed within the New York cultural scene for a brief but heady period during the 1980s. Ultimately, the present work superbly encapsulates the sensation that Haring declared he was striving for within his art when he stated, “When I paint, it is an experience that, at its best, is transcending reality.” (the artist cited in Ibid.) In its creation of a powerfully distinctive dreamscape, Untitled not only ‘transcends’ reality, but exceeds it as well.