Haring was a unique presence in 1980s New York, playing a key role in his generation’s counterculture and creating an immediately recognizable style. Best known for his iconic motifs, such as barking dogs, crawling babies and flying saucers, Haring’s work was politically charged and motivated by activism. As an openly gay man, Haring’s work as an AIDS activist and educator remains his most essential legacy. Elsewhere, he responded to equally critical and relevant issues, contributing to nuclear disarmament campaigns, creating a 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 singular, seemingly spontaneous style, was animated by the energies of his era; from space travel and robotics to video games. The exhibition evokes the style and spirit of the time in rarely seen archival documents, video and photographs while 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 realized 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.’ He frequently collaborated with Andy Warhol and Jean-Michel Basquiat who shared his desire to unite high art and popular culture.
The 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. Haring also collaborated with Madonna, Grace Jones, Vivienne Westwood, and Malcolm McLaren, making sets and designs for videos and performances.