TATE Liverpool is set to host the first major UK exhibition of the American artist Keith Haring (1958–1990).

Keith Haring
Keith Haring

Opening on 14th June, the Keith Haring exhibition will present more than 85 works exploring a broad range of the artist’s practice, including large-scale drawings and paintings, most of which have never previously been seen in the UK.

Haring, who died aged 32 in 1990, was an American artist whose pop art and graffiti-like work grew out of the New York City street culture of the 1980s.

Haring’s work first came to prominence from his spontaneous drawings in New York City subways—chalk outlines of figures, dogs, and other stylized images-on blank black advertising-space backgrounds. However, after public recognition he created larger scale works, including colourful murals; many of them commissioned. His later work often addressed political and societal themes—especially homosexuality and the AIDS epidemic, but from the start of his career, his iconic imagery created what has been described as “a widely recognized visual language”.

Keith Haring was a unique presence in 1980s New York, playing a key role in his generation’s counterculture and creating his immediately recognisable style. Haring’s politically charged work was motivated by activism. As an openly gay man, Haring’s work as an AIDS activist and educator remains his most significant legacy. Elsewhere, he responded to equally critical and relevant issues, contributing to nuclear disarmament campaigns, creating his famed Crack is Wack mural, and designing anti-apartheid posters.

Haring expanded on wide-ranging legacies and influences from abstract expressionism, pop art, and Chinese calligraphy, to the work of New York graffiti artists. His unique and seemingly spontaneous style was animated by the energies of his time; referencing space travel, robotics and video games. The exhibition evokes the style and spirit of the time in rarely seen archive documents, video and photographs – whilst Haring’s immersive ‘black light’ installation from 1982 presents fluorescent works under UV light accompanied by hip-hop music.

Dedicated to the creation of a truly public art that would reach the widest possible audience, Haring commented: “I remember most clearly an afternoon of drawing… All kinds of people would stop and look at the huge drawing and many were eager to comment on their feelings toward it. This was the first time I realised how many people could enjoy art if they were given the chance. These were not the people I saw in the museums or in the galleries but a cross-section of humanity that cut across all boundaries.”

Keith Haring art

For Haring this wasn’t just an abstract statement of principle – he acted upon it, launching the “Pop Shop” in April 1986, in New York’s Soho district. Here he made his work readily accessible to purchase at reasonable prices, though he was highly criticised for the commercialization of his work.

When challenged about it, Haring said: “I could earn more money if I just painted a few things and jacked up the price. My shop is an extension of what I was doing in the subway stations, breaking down the barriers between high and low art.”

Shirts, posters, and other items showing his work were sold there, allowing his art to be easier to own and reflecting his earlier graffiti art that had been “free” to view, located as it was, on the New York subway system and on unused billboards. Haring shared this desire to unite high art and popular culture with his frequent collaborators Andy Warhol, and Jean-Michel Basquiat.

This notion of accessibility was also reflected in the content of much of Haring’s work. He sought to make his work relatable and accessible to as wide an audience as possible, by frequently depicting figures with no discernible age, race, or identity. However, by the arrival of The Pop Shop, his work was consciously reflecting more socio-political themes, such as anti-Apartheid, AIDS awareness, and the crack cocaine epidemic

The Tate Liverpool exhibition also sheds light on the performative nature of Haring’s work, from his live chalk drawings on the New York subway to working with artist and photographer Tseng Kwong Chi who documented Haring’s practice. During his career Haring also collaborated with Madonna, Grace Jones, Vivienne Westwood and Malcolm McLaren, making sets and designs for videos and performances.

Keith Haring’s career was cut short by his premature death from AIDS-related complications at the age of 31 in 1990. His body of work expressed universal concepts of birth, death, love, sex, war and compassion and it remains as relevant today as it was when it was made.

Keith Haring is curated by Darren Pih, Curator, Exhibitions & Displays, and Tamar Hemmes, Assistant Curator, Tate Liverpool.

14 June – 10 November 2019

Public Programme and Artist Residency supported by The Keith Haring Foundation

Open daily 10.00 – 18.00 

For public information call +44(0)151 702 7400, visit tate.org.uk/liverpool or follow @tateliverpool #KeithHaring