When Keith Haring’s first major solo exhibition was staged in Stedelijk Museum in 1986, the artist was beginning to gain great affection and admiration within the larger audience. Alongside his iconic paintings and drawings, Haring wanted to create a site-specific work especially devised for this show. Therefore, he had laid out a massive velum on the floor, measuring almost 40 x 66 feet, 12 x 20 meters, and created a stunning canvas in just one day, using only spray paint. Painting rapidly and rhythmically while moving over the canvas to the hip-hop playing in the background, Haring made quite a performance of it, while photographers and journalists looked on. Featuring dancing, waving figures, crawling babies and squirming animals, the canvas was stretched below the monumental glass cupola above the historic staircase, filtering daylight into the grand hallway. Thirty years later, the velum has been restored and it will be on display again at the Stedelijk Museum for everyone to enjoy.
At the time of the show, Keith Haring was involved in many other activities in the city of Amsterdam, outside of the museum. Using the city as his canvas, he joined young, local, graffiti artists to create some stunning artworks that commanded attention. Among those pieces is a mural on the façade of the former Stedelijk storage depot on the Jan van Galenstraat, painted while working from a crane. Described by the Amsterdam artist Jan Rothuizen, who was there at the time, as a kind of a happy dinosaur with an elongated neck, it is Haring’s largest surviving public artwork in Europe. This painting still stands today, yet it is hidden from the view, concealed by weatherboarding installed to protect the building against damp.
Beginning his career in 1980 with train graffiti in New York, Keith Haring started exhibiting worldwide after showing his work at the Tony Shafrazi Gallery in 1982. During his tragically short but prolific artistic career, he left a deep mark in the world of contemporary art inspiring generations of future artists. His signature images, which included various dancing figures, a radiant baby, a barking dog, a flying saucer, large hearts and figures with television heads, were imbued with the unique energy and optimism, becoming instantly recognizable. Always socially aware, he addressed themes which continue to hold relevance today, such as war, racism, drugs, and AIDS. On the occasion of his first solo show at Stedelijk Museum in 1986, the artist stated: "...because it’s a major museum in Amsterdam, the show had phenomenal attendance. For me, it was an overwhelming experience, showing at the Stedelijk Museum. I felt I had really accomplished something”.
Always maintaining close ties with artists, Stedelijk has always provided a space for them to develop new work. Over the course of decades, a variety of artists have been commissioned to create extraordinary site-specific installations for spaces in the building, such as the area surrounding the grand staircase. The conservation and restoration of the Keith Haring velum and the related educational programming were made possible with the generous support of The Keith Haring Foundation. The velum will be on view at Stedelijk Museum in Amsterdam from October 13th, 2017.
Feature image: Keith Haring at work in the Stedelijk © Keith Haring Foundation.