Nearly 50 percent of the exhibit, which traveled from Vienna to Cincinnati to Brooklyn, features works provided by the Keith Haring Foundation that have never before been viewed by the public.
The art is primarily from the period spanning 1980 to 1983, a crucial launching point in Haring's artistic career, as he had just moved to New York City in 1978 at age 19. In addition to his drawings, which range from miniscule to mural-scale, the exhibit includes journal entries and home videos Haring recorded while working through the early stages of his creativity.
“For people who think that his later work is too accessible and doesn't have enough struggle, you can come here and see it,” said the exhibit's curator, Tricia Laughlin Bloom. “You can see him really working out, through abstraction and through poetry and through video, what it is he's really trying to get across, which in a lot of cases is just him, his energy.”
Haring was born on May 4, 1958 in Reading and was raised in Kutztown, Pennsylvania.
He moved to New York City to attend the School of Visual Arts and settled in Greenwich Village in its transitional period after the Stonewall riots era and before the AIDS crisis took hold of the gay community.
Haring died on February 16, 1990 from AIDS-related causes.
“The exhibition is unique because it focuses on a tight timeframe, but explores it deeply,” Bloom said. “There's that volcanic energy that came from him developing this body of work, not really sure what to do with it, and then he comes to art school and kind of connects with the city and it's this great catalyst for him personally.”
She added that Haring was unique because he bridged the gap between fine arts training and urban street art, such as graffiti, which was also erupting in the city in the early 80s.
“There's also that feeling of him being a guy who grew up in a small town in Pennsylvania and not quite fitting in, being sort of 'boy-next-door' but also being kind of eccentric and gay and coming to New York and being like, 'I found my place,'” Bloom said. “It's such a nice celebration of New York.”
The exhibit features 180 wall works and 150 additional archival pieces, some of which the Brooklyn Museum added for this showing.
For example, at the entrance to the exhibit, there is a row of Polaroid's Haring took of himself in various outfits and places in the city.
There are also interactive features installed by the museum, including iPads scattered throughout the exhibit, and a room with electronic sketch pads.
The exhibit explores Haring's subway art, in which he covered advertisements in train stations with his own artwork, to explore the idea that ads are on display for everyone to see, but the public doesn't get to choose what it looks at.
Another room is a re-creation of a showing Haring held at P.S. 122 in the East Village, which at the time was an abandoned elementary school used as a squat for artists.
“What the show does is it allows you to meet him on a personal level, in addition to seeing that he was a very serious artist, you get a sense of what was on his mind and what his tastes were,” Bloom said. “He was a serious artist that happened to work in a simplified form.”
She said the exhibit fits well in Brooklyn because of the emerging art scene in the Williamsburg and Bushwick area, but added that everyone can relate to Haring's struggle and his work.
“He reaped what he sowed,” Bloom said. “He wanted to create a really accessible, universal style that would really be engaging, and that's what it is.”
The Keith Haring Exhibit is on display in the Brooklyn Museum until July 8th. For more information, visit Brooklynmuseum.org.