ROTTERDAM. This autumn and winter, the Kunsthal Rotterdam is proud to be presenting a major exhibition on the life and work of influential American artist and activist Keith Haring (1958-1990). ‘Keith Haring. The Political Line’ (until 7 February 2016) is the first exhibition in the Netherlands to highlight in detail the social and political aspects of his life’s work. One hundred and twenty artworks reveal an underexposed side of this world-famous artist. To personally experience these imposing artworks is a visual spectacle that has great impact. Twenty-five years after Haring’s death, his art is as influential as ever, announced kunsthal.nl.
A protege of Andy Warhol (1928-1987), Keith Haring spawned a revolution in art during the 1980s with his unmistakably unique style. In New York, during the conservatism of the Reagan era (Ronald Reagan (1911-2004) was an American politician and actor, who served as the 40th President of the United States from 1981 to 1989), the openly-gay Haring made it his mission to highlight social evils in his work. He took a clear stance against the excesses of capitalism and was committed to nuclear disarmament, environmental protection and equal rights for all, irrespective of ethnicity, skin colour, religion or sexual orientation. Together with diary excerpts and other archival material, the thematic collection of works in ‘The Political Line’ illustrates just how committed Keith Haring was to the socio-political issues of his day.
Keith Haring held a leading position in the New York ‘downtown’ community of painters, performers and musicians whose creativity took its cues from urban street culture. Keith Haring was inspired by graffiti, comic strips, music, dance, fine art and popular culture. Haring considered art to be a public right. The much-criticised commercialisation of his own work on T-shirts, badges or stickers was an integral part of his philosophy that ‘Art is for Everyone’. Haring had a tremendous influence on his generation, and although his career spanned just over one decade, the effects of his visual vocabulary still reverberate.
Many of the works in ‘The Political Line’ are on loan from the Keith Haring Foundation in New York, supplemented with important works from international museums and private collections. The diversity of Haring’s work ranges from the early chalk drawings created in situ in the New York City subway stations (the ‘subway drawings’), to his large-scale paintings on canvas and vinyl tarpaulins, innumerable works in Sumi ink on paper, unique objects and sculpture. Documentary material from the Haring Foundation’s archival holdings completes the picture of artist and activist Keith Haring.
As Kunsthal director Emily Ansenk emphasises, ‘We are delighted that this exhibition is taking place in Rotterdam, the city in which Keith Haring had his very first exhibition outside the USA, in 1982. Throughout his career, Keith Haring pursued his ambition to make his work accessible to everyone, not only to the art world. He shared his work through every channel possible. The Kunsthal Rotterdam is therefore the best place in the Netherlands for this exhibition; we are making his work accessible for a wide and new public audience.’
About Keith Haring
Born in Reading, Pennsylvania in 1958, Keith Haring grew up in nearby Kutztown. Upon his arrival in New York to attend the School of Visual Arts (1980), he was inspired by the intersection of downtown scenes that flourished beyond the formal settings of galleries and museums, including the vibrant gay community. Haring was an educated and engaged artist who was gripped by the energy and spirit of the scenes he found himself in, together with many of his inspiring contemporaries, such as Jean-Michel Basquiat (1960-1988), Francesco Clemente (1952), George Condo (1957), Eric Haze, Crash (John Matos; 1961), LA II (Angel Ortiz; 1967), Kenny Scharf (1958), John Ahearn (1951) and Rammellzee (to name but a few). His discipline and passion for working, often in public spaces, led him to organise and participate in exhibitions and live performances in clubs, even dressing Madonna and body-painting Grace Jones for performances at the famous Paradise Garage nightclub. He was also inspired by the work of his predecessors, including Picasso (1881-1973), Fernand Leger (1881-1955), Stuart Davis (1892-1964), Jean Dubuffet (1901-1985), Pierre Alechinsky (1927) and William Burroughs (1914-1997); by the public and participatory work of Christo (1935); and by Andy Warhol’s unique symbiosis of art and life. Keith Haring was determined to dedicate his career to creating a truly public art.
Haring’s career spanned one short but intense decade. His work was presented in over 100 solo exhibitions during the 1980s. Haring was simultaneously active in the public sphere. He completed over fifty murals in dozens of cities all over the world, many of which were created in hospitals and children’s homes. At the time of his death from AIDS-related complications at 31 years of age, Haring had achieved international fame, not only as an artist, but also as an activist. In the final years of his life, he used his fame to promote awareness in the struggle against AIDS, and, in an effort to minimize the stigma associated with this illness, he spoke openly about his HIV status. In 1989, he established the Keith Haring Foundation. To this day, in accordance with Haring’s clearly stated philanthropic goals, the Keith Haring Foundation supports organisations that provide educational opportunities to underprivileged youth and organisations that engage in education, prevention and care with respect to AIDS and HIV infection.
The exhibition ‘Keith Haring. The Political Line’ is accompanied by an extensive supporting programme that focuses on Haring’s symbolic language, the public sharing of art and the socio-political aspects of Haring’s work, including his commitment to equal rights and his fight against the AIDS epidemic…
The exhibition is the result of a collaboration between the Kunsthal Rotterdam, the Kunsthalle der Hypo-Kulturstiftung in Munich, guest curator Dr Dieter Buchhart and the Keith Haring Foundation in New York. ‘The Political Line’ is based on an exhibition of the same name held at the Musee d’Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris and Le Centquatre (2013) and the Fine Arts Museum in San Francisco (2014, de Young Museum). Exclusively for the Kunsthal, this exhibition has been supplemented with material about Haring’s visits to the Netherlands.
The Dutch-language exhibition catalogue ‘Keith Haring. The Political Line’, published to coincide with the exhibition of the same name at the Kunsthal Rotterdam, was produced in collaboration with the Keith Haring Foundation in New York and the Kunsthalle der Hypo-Kulturstiftung in Munich. The publication explores the artist’s involvement with politics, urban street culture, the art world and pop culture. With over 200 reproductions, photographic series by Haring’s friend and photographer Tseng Kwong Chi, four essays that examine the political aspects of Haring’s art, and interviews with people who knew the artist well, this catalogue provides an intimate yet expansive look at Haring’s life, work and political convictions.
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About the Kunsthal Rotterdam
The Kunsthal Rotterdam is a leading cultural institution in the Netherlands and is located in Museumpark Rotterdam. Designed in 1992 by the famous architect Rem Koolhaas, the Kunsthal has no less than seven different exhibition areas. Every year, the Kunsthal presents a varied and diverse programme of approximately 25 exhibitions. The Kunsthal always presents several exhibitions simultaneously, taking visitors on an exciting journey along various cultures and art movements. From modern masters and contemporary art to forgotten cultures, photography, fashion and design, this is culture for a wide audience. The Kunsthal also organises an extensive programme of activities to accompany the exhibitions.