|Keith Haring, Unfinished Painting, 1989. Private collection|
What would Haring had done, had he lived a more typical lifespan? The artist posed that unanswerable question himself. In 1987, the year he was diagnosed with AIDS, he wrote: "Amazing how many things one can produce if you live long enough. I mean, I've barely created ten years of serious work. Imagine 50 years.… I would love to live to be 50 years old." He conceded this "hardly seems possible."
|Keith Haring, newspaper collages, 1980. The Keith Haring Foundation|
As the exhibition makes clear, Haring worked in various modes and had no simple evolution of styles. A formative influence was William S. Burroughs and his literary "cut-up" technique. In 1980 Haring produced a series of collages from New York Post headlines. They tweaked Ronald Reagan and organized religion, which were to become targets of Haring's mature work. Burroughs' wordplay was also a point of departure for Haring's performances, shown here on monitors.
Mainly Haring produced endless variations on his drawings of break dancers, monsters, and radiant babies. Few artists were as popular as Haring was in the 1980s, and that's what his following demanded.
|Installation view, "Keith Haring: Art Is for Everybody"|
|Keith Haring, Moses and the Burning Bush, 1985. Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art, Bentonville, Ark.|
At about the same time, and up until his death, Haring was churning out paintings and graphics in his flatter signature style. He was sometimes engaging with painting in less successful ways. Red Room (purchased by Eli Broad) was made three years after Moses and the Burning Bush. It's an homage to Matisse, but it's more Red Grooms than Red Room.
|Keith Haring, Red Room, 1988. The Broad Art Foundation|
Haring built on some of the innovations of Moses with Unfinished Painting and Brazil, both from 1989 and among his last completed paintings. These are square canvases, partly filled in with an allover pictographic design with chromatic richness. The Unfinished Painting is presented a surrogate for the artist's AIDS-shortened career. The upper left corner of the canvas is completed, the rest left raw save for drips. Brazil is roughly the opposite, with a corner of blue sky(?) at lower right. Why Brazil—an Oscar Niemeyer tomorrowland or a Terry Gilliam dystopia?
"Keith Haring: Art Is for Everybody" runs through Oct 8. 2023. It will travel to Toronto (Art Gallery of Ontario) and Minneapolis (Walker Art Center).