Keith Haring In The Heartland

image

Few artists are more closely associated with New York than Keith Haring (1958–1990) who rose to international stardom in the early 80s for his spontaneous chalk drawings on sheets of black paper used to cover advertisements in subway stations. He produced more than 5,000 during his career.

A pair of exhibitions on view now, however, recall visits to the Midwest by Haring where his charm and talent were no less appreciated than in Manhattan.

Keith Haring in Iowa

It’s hard to believe. An art teacher at Horn Elementary School in Iowa sending a postcard to Haring beginning an exchange of letters and care packages between the famous artist and the 11- and 12-year-olds. An exchange that would result in Haring traveling to the school in 1984 for “Keith Haring in Iowa City,” a three-day artist residency developed in partnership with the University of Iowa.

“He was young and did graffiti and could draw anything,” Collen Ernst, the Iowa City art teacher who first reached out to Haring in 1982, told Forbes.com why, of all artists, she chose him to try contacting. “I felt that the kids would relate to his imagery, which is simple, two dimensional and colorful.”

She couldn’t believe he actually responded. But he did, and on that first visit conducted drawing workshops, created a tarpaulin painting as part of a public performance, and shared insight into his art making during a public lecture.

Not surprisingly, considering the childlike joy and wonder he seemed to approach his life and art with, Ernst recalls him being perfect with the students.

“The kids were captivated by his art and his welcoming presence,” she remembers. “Keith treated the children with respect and invited their input as he painted. The creativity seemed to flow out of him.”

Haring’s relationship with the school reached its apex in 1989–at the peak of his fame and less than a year before his death–when the artist returned for one day, May 22: “Keith Haring Day.” While there, he painted a mural, A Book Full of Fun, in the school library. He asked for students’ suggestions and incorporated them in real time. Depicting a thought bubble above an open book, the symbolic mural overflows with creative characters, visual puns, letters, and numbers in a tribute to the students’ literary imaginations.

A Book Full of Fun takes center stage during the exhibition, “To My Friends at Horn: Keith Haring and Iowa City,” at the University of Iowa Stanley Museum of Art. Haring addressed his correspondence with the school, “To All My Friends at Horn,” inspiring the presentation’s name.

The opportunity to display Haring’s mural at the museum comes as a result of planned construction at Horn Elementary School necessitating the mural’s temporary relocation. In July 2023, the Stanley partnered with the school to conserve the artwork. In doing so, conservators removed the mural, along with a portion of the wall to which it was attached, and safely transported the 4,000-pound structure to the Museum, where it will remain until it can be safely reinstalled at Horn in 2025.

The Stanley’s exhibition marks the public debut of A Book Full of Fun and the artwork’s first appearance alongside the12-foot-long mural Haring painted on tarpaulin during his 1984 artist residency.

Additional works by Haring on view in the show contextualize his visits within his meteoric career. Stories from the community are also incorporated, including interviews with former students, related photographs, drawings, and other mementos revealing the artist’s lasting impact on Iowa City.

This story, of course, does not have a happy ending. Haring died of AIDS related causes in New York at the age of 31.

What did “Dr. Art” tell her students when she heard the news?

“Just that he had died. The news came as such a shock to me and I wasn’t able to do much more than that,” Ernst said. “I was so terribly upset and had to take time off from work. Following Keith’s death, I was deluged with calls from parents, teachers, and administrators offering me their sympathies. It was as if a member of my family had died.”

The Keith Haring exhibition in Iowa City will remain on view through January 7, 2025.

Keith Haring in Minnesota

Less than two weeks prior to visiting Harn Elementary School in 1984, Haring made another trip to the Midwest, this one as part of a residency at the Walker Art Center in Minneapolis where he also worked with local youth and produced a large-scale mural.

“The Walker’s invitation to Keith Haring was in keeping with its established track record of working on exhibitions and residencies with emerging artists, which is still a hallmark of the museum’s program today,” Siri Engberg, the Walker Art Center’s Senior Curator and Director of Visual Arts, told Forbes.com. “The Walker was fortunate to have been able to work with Haring as his career was gaining momentum. In 1984, Haring had already gained a significant national and international reputation, and was in demand by numerous museums for exhibition and public art opportunities.”

Forty years later, the Walker again turns to Haring with “Keith Haring: Art Is for Everybody,” a major exhibition on his life and artmaking featuring more than 100 works from the full arc of his career including significant paintings, sculptures, and drawings. The mural he produced there in 1984 was temporary.

The Walker presentation displays rarely seen archival materials lent by the Keith Haring Foundation, including video, photographs, and important source materials from the artist’s personal journals. Furthermore, the Walker’s iteration of the exhibition originally organized by The Broad in Los Angeles is supplemented by a selection of rare video, audio, photographs, and ephemera related to Haring from the Walker’s archive.

“Haring had a remarkable capacity to use his characters to express the complexities of humanity,” Engberg said of Haring’s lasting appeal. “He was able to deploy his characters, such as the radiant baby, barking dog, or dancing figure, to express exuberant optimism as well as social and political content—often within the same work.”

Haring took on his era’s most pressing challenges–AIDS, gay rights, apartheid in South Africa, capitalism, race–achieving the delicate balance of effectively sharing a serious message in a joyful manner.

“Haring felt an urgent sense of responsibility to use his growing popularity as a platform for social and political causes,” Engberg said. “By using his distinctive line to create a visual language that was easily recognizable, he was also able to communicate important messages to a public eager to hear his voice.”

The exhibition also features a section devoted to Haring’s celebrated Pop Shop, first opened in 1986 in the SoHo neighborhood of New York.

“The Pop Shop, which Haring launched after he stopped making chalk drawings in the subway system, was another endeavor by which he could disseminate his imagery in a democratic way,” Engberg explained. “His ethos was ‘Art Is for Everybody,’ and the Pop Shop, which carried low-cost items from buttons to stickers to t-shirts, was accessible, fun, and popular. Painted floor to ceiling with Haring’s line drawings, the space was part art installation, part retail environment.”

Like the original, the gallery recreation is covered wall-to-wall in Haring’s line drawings and will display vintage merchandise from the original Pop Shop.

“Keith Haring: Art Is for Everybody,” can be seen at the Walker through September 8, 2024.

This post was originally published on this site