Finally. We are seeing the blockbuster exhibition about Keith Haring today. I’ve been wanting to go for weeks. And joy, joy, it is better than I expected. I expected to have my consciousness protest against my good cultural will, demanding how cartoon like figures and giant genitals were art. But that didn’t bother me much. It raises many other questions though. And it allows for hilarious moments, like the time an impeccably coiffured older lady and her just-as-neat husband feel clearly uncomfortable with a giant penis piece on the wall and ignore it all too obviously. Ha. Ha. Ahum.
Spotify tip while reading this post: Platoon by Jungle
What exhibition, where?
The exhibition about Keith Haring is now in the Kunsthal until 7 February 2016. Plenty of time to go if you are in Rotterdam. It’s pretty extensive with many, many works and it has been well marketed throughout the city, with little marks everywhere in the shape of Haring figurines. Especially on subway stations, a place where he actually gained fame. But then in New York. Nice detail: Haring’s first exhibition out of the USA ever was right here in Rotterdam, close to the Kunsthal. The circle is complete.
Keith Haring, who?
In a few words, Keith Haring was a visual artist who became successful in the 1980s. He is often remembered as gay because he was open about it in a conservative America that couldn’t yet talk of it. And he also died from AIDS, a disease that had the nickname
“gay disease” back then. That made him never grow older than 32.
Keith Haring was also very outspoken about matters in society. He was against the use of atomic power and hilariously warned against ‘the power of the computer.’ He predicted that people would be totally depending on computers in the future. Actually, he said, it was already so. That was in 1980. Cute.
And the art?
The art is…clear. And engaged. Keith Haring put his ideas in his art. He wanted his art to be accessible to everyone, not just to the art elite. So he used very clear visual language borrowed from comics and cartoons. And in it, he put symbols that everybody understood. A stick for power. A penis for sexuality. A chain for powerlessness.
But don’t be mistaken about his skill. He had a formal art education and great knowledge of art styles. He chose his style deliberately, not because he couldn’t do more than make ‘what my 4 year old nephew can’. He just took the art philosophy of Andy Warhol and other artists, thinking that art is for everyone. It was allowed to look simple. But was it that simple, really? You’d need the specific 80’s topics, the ideas, the gay scene in New York, the steady hand, several imprisonments for public vandalism, vision, and more. And you’d need a crowd loving it, a little like an instagram account gone viral. Not that easy.
If you look closely and you would imagine yourself creating these works from scratch, would you still believe you could do it too? I don’t. And I am also less skeptic about Keith Haring’s art than I was before seeing so much of his work. So don’t miss it and go see it if you can. Be surprised!