LYON, FRANCE.- The Museum of Contemporary Art of Lyon presents Keith Haring, on view through June 29, 2008. Recognized as one of the great artists of the 1980s, Keith Haring is above all an emblematic figure, constantly linking the art world of his time to the world of the street, and to the widest and most diverse public.
Keith Haring was born in America in 1958 (he would have been 50 in 2008). Before becoming a painter he studied commercial arts. He began by drawing on the walls of the subway, then finally had exhibitions in several prominent New York galleries such as Tony Shafrazi and Leo Castelli. In 1984 he started developing a colourful set of symbols related to the world of the media. His art stood out because of its synthetic forms outlined in black. Apart from this easily identifiable graphic style, his great popularity can also be explained by his predilection for unorthodox and universally accessible supports: the subway, city walls and streetlamps, all the way up to the multiples that he sold from his own shop.
The Museum of Contemporary Art of Lyon is presenting one of the biggest exhibitions ever organized in France in homage to Keith Haring, an emblematic figure of the New York art scene of the 1980s, who would have been 50 in 2008. This exceptional exhibition has been entrusted to the Italian curator Gianni Mercurio and is being organized in close collaboration with the Keith Haring Foundation in New York. It presents an unprecedented ensemble of works from the most important American and European collections, both public and private.
The retrospective will be set out in a deliberately non-chronological sequence. The artist's short career, spanning the years from 1980 to 1990, is viewed as a whole. Like Keith Haring in his own work, filling the canvas, putting his art in the most unexpected places, covering even objects and bodies, the exhibition will take over the museum, taking possession of the spaces in order to immerse visitors in the colourful, dynamic and teeming world of this artist. It comprehensively deploys Haring's practice, including its essential paintings on tarpaulin and its monumental paintings (including the canvas made in 1987 for the Casino at Knokke-le-Zoute).
Most of all, though, it allows visitors to discover the extraordinary diversity of the supports and media that Haring used so freely - vinyl paint, acrylic enamel paint, chalk, ink, felt pen, on canvas, metal, paper, wood and even the human body (including that of Grace Jones in 1985).
A big ensemble of more than a hundred drawings reveals the diversity of Haring's graphic world and the directness of his style, expressing sincerity and passion by means of a continuous and consummate line. The influence of classical art is manifest here, as is that of African, Asian and South American cultures.
The exhibition conveys Haring's open, cultivated mind, as manifested in his formally diverse works nourished by his encounters, readings and the places discovered on his travels. Whether on relatively classical supports (canvas, paper, metal, etc.) or more unexpected ones, such as the BMW, also presented in the exhibition (Original Keith Haring Object Z1, 1990), beyond the apparent gaiety of the images we are aware of Haring's interest in the big issues of the day: AIDS, drugs, the power of money, etc.
For Haring worked at the heart of everyday life. There are, too, moments of questioning and revolt: the apocalyptic visions and monstrous creatures in his work transcribe the scourges of the modern world, such as the nuclear threat and the AIDS virus, and heighten the intensity of his very personal iconography.
Never before seen by the general public, the series of paintings on fences are highlight of the show, as are the Subway Drawings (some only as photographs, the originals having sadly been destroyed). This exceptional ensemble, made on a construction site fence in New York, shows the artist's powerful need to occupy urban space and to break free of the cultural milieu and the art market. In the same vein, and specially reinstalled for the exhibition, his astonishing Pop Shop Tokyo (1985) illustrates his desire to make art accessible to all and surrounds us from floor to ceiling with the incredible shop where he could make his work directly available to the general public.
To complete this teeming ensemble - to which must be added the monumental sculptures - projections and an exceptional series of photographs shed light on the production of Haring's work.
A video entitled Haring ALL OVER closes the exhibition. The film, shown on several screens, presents tributes to the artist as well as interviews never shown before. These images take visitors to New York, Chicago, Philadelphia, Paris, Düsseldorf, Berlin, Antwerp, Knokke-le-Zoute and Monaco, where Haring made interventions in public space. The itinerary ends in Pisa, where the artist made his last mural painting, Tuttomondo, only a few months before his death.
Faithful to the spirit of Keith Haring, who worked to make art accessible to all, the sequence continues outside the museum with an exceptional presentation at the Treasures room of the museum of Fourvière, of the big altarpiece he made in 1990.
Gianni Mercurio, curator and author, lives and works in Rome. He has worked with a number of institutions on projects involving American art, his speciality. Among the many exhibitions he has organized are Andy Warhol, Journey to Italy (Rome, Naples, Genoa, Turin in 1995/1996), Roy Lichtenstein, Reflections (Rome, Milan, Wolfsburg Kunstmuseum in 1999/2000), Keith Haring (Pisa, Rome, Helsinki, Aachen-Ludwig Forum, Catania in 1999/2001), Jean-Michel Basquiat (Rome, 2002), George Segal (Rome, 2002). He has also conceived exhibitions on graffiti (American Graffiti - Naples, Rome in 1997/1998) and the Photorealists (Rome, 2003), and curated The Andy Warhol Show (2004) and The Keith Haring Show (2005/06) at the Milan Triennial.
Born in Reading, Pennsylvania in 1958, Keith Haring became interested in drawing at an early age, learning basic cartooning skills from his father. Immersed in popular culture - the Beatnik movement, the rock music of the 1970s and psychedelic culture - he took inspiration from comic books and animated cartoons but also the works of the Cobra movement. Up until 1978 he studied advertising drawing at the Ivy School of Professional Art in Pittsburgh where he discovered the work of Pierre Alechinsky. He then moved to New York to study at the School of Visual Arts, the most prestigious in the city. There he was taught by Joseph Kosuth and Keith Sonnier, experimented with video and took an interest in semiology. He later discovered Jackson Pollock and Andy Warhol, made increasing use of new techniques and moved up to bigger formats.