Magazine article Artforum International

Keith Haring

Magazine article Artforum International

Keith Haring

Article excerpt

The cranky reaction of certain critics to the Keith Haring retrospective - in The New Yorker, Kurt Andersen remarked that Haring's "barking dogs, glowing babies, and jaunty everypeople are not much more than pleasant downtown wallpaper" - is reminiscent of the kind of response "serious" people usually reserve for bubblegum music. Like, say, the unapologetically feel-good, populist confections of teen sensation Hanson, whose ubiquitous "MMMBop," was a Top Ten hit the week that the Whitney show opened. Had Haring been alive today, instead of dead from AIDS in 1990 at what now seems like the impossibly early age of thirty-one, he probably wouldn't have minded being coupled with Tiger Beat-style pinups, despite his never-quite-realized quest to be taken seriously by the art establishment. After all, as a pubescent in Kutztown, Pennsylvania, Haring make a crude collage on lined notebook paper declaring "I Love DAVY JONES."

This queer coming-to-consciousness, not to mention understanding of how the broadest icons shape personal desires, suggests a slightly more complex outlook than what Andersen characterizes as Haring's "Bobby McFerrinism - don't worry, sell doodles!" Haring embraced his pop passions (drawing, dancing, fabricating mass objects) as a form of libidinal projection and release, but he also transformed his frenzy for line and shape into something more than decorative obsession: into art that called for widespread alertness and concern. Consider these decidedly non-happy-face proselytizings: "Free South Africa," "Crack is Wack," and multiple safe-sex slogans.

Curator Elisabeth Sussman and guest installation designer Tibor Kalman understood what should be crushingly obvious by now: "content" and "fun" are not mutually exclusive. To that end, they fashioned a fittingly raucous, multimedia tribute to Haring that jams to the ceiling his dense canvases and Magic-Marker drawings, often done in hot fuschias, electric blues, and acid-lime greens. Display cases run along the walls below these works, filled with ephemera from the artist's life, including bumper stickers, childhood photos, early sketchbooks, his passport, even a restaurant bill. (All with a keen eye toward how personal artifacts can stand as an artwork in and of themselves.) Then there's the room, at once sarcophagus and miniclub, that re-creates uncannily well the feeling of '80s New York. Mixes by DJ Junior Vasquez pump through the darkened space, while Polaroids of Keith with Madonna, Dolly, Grace, and Boy George lie under glass alongside a collection of Haring's favorite music (mix tapes with hand-scrawled labels; cassettes by De La Soul, Bowie, Eric B and Rakim, and Devo). …

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