Lot 33
  • 33


700,000 - 900,000 GBP
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  • Keith Haring
  • Untitled
  • signed and dated Oct. 21 1985 on the overlap
  • acrylic and silver paint on canvas
  • 122 by 122 cm. 48 by 48 in.


Tony Shafrazi Gallery, New York
Christie’s, New York, 27 February 1992, Lot 131
Private Collection, Europe (acquired from the above)
Thence by descent to the present owner


New York, Tony Shafrazi Gallery, Keith Haring, October - November 1985


Colour: The colour in the catalogue illustration is fairly accurate although the illustration fails to fully convey the fluorescence of the orange pigment in the original. Condition: Please refer to the department for a professional condition report.
"In response to your inquiry, we are pleased to provide you with a general report of the condition of the property described above. Since we are not professional conservators or restorers, we urge you to consult with a restorer or conservator of your choice who will be better able to provide a detailed, professional report. Prospective buyers should inspect each lot to satisfy themselves as to condition and must understand that any statement made by Sotheby's is merely a subjective, qualified opinion. Prospective buyers should also refer to any Important Notices regarding this sale, which are printed in the Sale Catalogue.

Catalogue Note

Bursting with vibrant colour and vital energy, Keith Haring’s 1985 painting Untitled is an iconic work from the American artist’s celebrated pictorial practice, which poignantly merged street art with high culture in an unlikely – and utopic – union. Despite his tragically short life, curtailed at the tender age of thirty-one, Haring nonetheless enjoyed an intensely prolific and illustrious career, rising to prominence in the early 1980s with his graffiti subway drawings, before spiralling meteorically into an art world sensation. Born in Reading, Pennsylvania, in 1958, Haring moved to New York City in 1978, where he became submerged in the thriving underground art and music scene. Alongside his contemporaries such as Jean-Michel Basquiat and Kenny Scharf, Haring sought to imbue his works with the spirit of the times, drawing from the exploding downtown New York counterculture of rap, hip-hop, street dance and graffiti art. Studying on a scholarship at the School of Visual Arts, he developed a distinctive iconography of signs, symbols and ciphers – from his renowned “radiant baby” motif, to barking dogs, flying saucers, dancing figures, and pyramids – which began to populate his artworks, defying traditional limitations as they spilled over from his canvases and works on paper onto the walls of the streets and the subway. Delineated in bold, black, cartoonish lines, Haring envisaged a universal language of direct and simplified form and popping primary colours: “A more holistic and basic idea of wanting to incorporate [art] into every part of life,” he explained, “less as an egotistical exercise and more natural somehow. I don’t know how to exactly explain it. Taking it off the pedestal. I’m giving it back to the people, I guess” (Keith Haring cited in: Daniel Drenger, ‘Art and Life: An Interview with Keith Haring,’ Columbia Art Review, Spring 1988, p. 53).  Untitled presents a singular scene, typical of Haring’s entrancing and enigmatic style: set against a radiant blue sky, a central pyramid, silver and shimmering, recalls the revered monuments of Ancient Egypt. From out of its base sprout two legs, rendered in fluorescent orange, engaged in a rhythmic dance atop an undulating, polka-dotted, crimson sea. An omnipotent pair of hands reaches down from the heavens above them. Composed at the intoxicating height of New York’s underground club scene, the painting is infused with the beats and rhythms of 1980s hip-hop and dance culture. The dynamic feet, waving hands and radiating black lines, indicative of sound and movement, evoke the electronic robotic motion of the breakdancing B-Boys, as though caught in the freeze-framing flashes of nightclub strobe-lighting. The pyramid itself makes reference to a new wave of dance that began to proliferate during this period: the electric boogie. Alongside other explicitly Egyptian imagery, the pyramid increasingly appeared in Haring’s oeuvre in allusion to a move in electric boogie known as Team Tut, after Tutankhamun. Dancers of the Tut would pile-up on top of or behind one another in a pyramidal shape making sharp angled signs with their hands known as “throwing hieroglyphs” (Hernando Molina cited in: Exh. Cat., San Francisco, Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco, Keith Haring: The Political Line, 2014, p. 54). Exhibited in 1985 at the Tony Shafrazi Gallery, New York, Untitled encapsulates the exuberant and infectious vigour of the 1980s dance revolution. 

Haring demonstrated a great propensity for art from a young age. He first learnt to draw cartoons from his father, and was influenced by the popular culture that surrounded him from Walt Disney animations to the illustrations of Dr. Seuss. He later became enthralled by avant-garde artists such as Jean Dubuffet and Pierre Alechinsky as his pictorial style developed, and the impact of their liberated, instinctual paintings and freedom of colour and form can be noted in his own compositions. During this period in the mid-1980s, however, it was Roy Lichtenstein that most captivated the artist’s imagination. Just a few months before Untitled was created, Haring had collaborated with Lichtenstein, alongside Basquiat, Andy Warhol and Yoko Ono, on a poster designed for UNICEF, to benefit the United States African Emergency Relief Fund. Haring was greatly inspired by the fizzing colour and bold outlines of Pop art, and indeed the pulsating spotted pattern at the base of the present work, as well as the pyramid motif itself, are reminiscent of Lichtenstein’s hallmark Ben-Day dot technique and his Pyramid paintings from the late 1960s (see Lot 46). Ever looking to the past in order to understand and critique the present, Haring’s art was as much a celebration of life as it was a wholehearted endeavour to strive for a better, fairer and more beautiful world. His enduring legacy on the art world is testament to his unique and unparalleled vision that recognised the vital significance of art on culture, history and existence itself. “Work is all I have,” he stated, “and art is more important than life” (Keith Haring cited in: Alexandra Kolossa, Keith Haring, 1958-1990: A Life For Art, Los Angeles 2004, p. 81).