Despite the city’s bankruptcy and a high rate of criminal, New York in the 1980s was an outstanding melting pot of radical artists who found this anarchic environment stimulating. Two contemporaries working in this city who gradually gained cult status for their practices and their personas were no others than Jean-Michel Basquiat and Keith Haring.
By proposing bold, and innovative visual languages that functioned as a fully engaged socio-politically charged commentaries, both artists reformed the art scene and set a new direction for the upcoming generation. To revisit Basquiat’s and Haring’s oeuvres, The National Gallery of Victoria decided to organize an exhibition based on their dialog that should unravel not only the context of the city and art scene during the 1980s but the impact their creative outputs left in a broader cultural and social sense.
Namely, both Jean-Michel Basquiat and Keith Haring were short-lived yet they left a rich production expressed through graffiti, painting, sculpture, drawings, photographs, and notebooks. Many of those artworks will be on display at the upcoming exhibition, providing visitors with a unique chance to better understand the full scope of Basquiat’s and Haring’s deeds and their significance throughout the decades after their tragic deaths. The renowned art historian and the guest curator, Dr. Dieter Buchhart briefly described the exhibition aim:
Haring and Basquiat redefined the role of art in public space and public debate. This exhibition draws out their passionate engagement with social issues, such as racism and the AIDS crisis, revealing the political context underpinning their practices.
Both artists early works made in public space, in subway stations and on the streets of NYC, as well as the selection from their first solo shows and their own collaborations, will be displayed first, while a group of most acclaimed artworks made by the two will follow.
Basquiat’s masterpiece Untitled from 1982, featuring a skull, his most recurrent motif, is a definite highlight of the exhibition underlining his outstanding use of color and rawness of gesture. On display is also Haring’s famous canvas Untitled, from 1983, which perfectly illustrates his artistic domains not only in technical but moreover in a conceptual and socio-political sense.
The last exhibition section gathers A Pile of Crowns for Jean-Michel Basquiat, Haring’s tribute to Basquiat after his friend died in 1988; the composition features a pile of Basquiat’s distinctive crowns presented in Haring’s signature use of linear symbolism. The selection of the artist’s tarp paintings such as Untitled (Australia), 1984, is also presented in this section.
The upcoming exhibition will hopefully unravel if not all, then at least the most important aspects of both artists' practices, and will contribute to the contemporary debate regarding queerness and racial issues, topics that were fundamental for Basquiat and Haring.
Keith Haring | Jean-Michel Basquiat: Crossing Lines will be on display at The National Gallery of Victoria in Melbourne until 13 April 2020.
Featured images: John Sex, Jean-Michel Basquiat and Keith Haring at AREA Club, New York, 1985. Photo: © Ben Buchanan; Installation view of Keith Haring | Jean-Michel Basquiat: Crossing Lines at NGV International, 1 December 2019 – 11 April 2020 © Estate of Jean-Michel Basquiat. Licensed by Artestar, New York © Keith Haring Foundation. Photo: Sean Fennessy; Installation view of Keith Haring | Jean-Michel Basquiat: Crossing Lines at NGV International, 1 December 2019 – 11 April 2020 © Estate of Jean-Michel Basquiat. Licensed by Artestar, New York © Keith Haring Foundation. Photo: Sean Fennessy; Installation view of Keith Haring’s Prophets of Rage, 1988 inside Keith Haring | Jean-Michel Basquiat: Crossing Lines at NGV International, 1 December 2019 – 11 April 2020. © Estate of Jean-Michel Basquiat. Licensed by Artestar, New York © Keith Haring Foundation. Photo: Tom Ross. All images courtesy NGV.