On Our Gaydar: Keith Haring Exhibit

The Brooklyn Museum opens a retrospective of the gay PA native's early work

Keith Haring (American, 1958–1990). Still from Painting Myself into a Corner, 1979. Video, 33 min. Collection Keith Haring Foundation. © Keith Haring Foundation

Keith Haring grew up in Pennsylvania Dutch Country and even attended Kutztown University before dropping out and moving to New York City where – within a few years – he would become one of the kings of art world. His “Radiant Baby” and other famous line drawings would eventually catapult him into fine art stardom after getting a humble start as a graffiti artist along with the likes of Jean-Michel Basquiat and Kenny Scharf (whose recent mural hovers above Sampan in Philly).

As the 1980s dawned, Haring was moving into the mainstream. His work appeared on T-shirts and fashions, in his Pop Shop, in videos for nightclubs and on walls of famous buildings around the world. He even painted his line drawings on a very famously naked Grace Jones.

The Brooklyn Museum is taking a look at the influential years between 1978 and 1982 in a new exhibition about the gay artist. It’s the first large-scale exhibit of its kind to explore Haring’s early career – and includes 155 works on paper, experimental videos and more than 150 archival pieces – including the artist’s personal notebooks, journals, exhibition flyers and photographs.

Not only did Haring influence a generation of artists with his playful designs, but he was also a product of pop culture himself – absorbing music, politics, fashion and sexuality into his work which first started making its debut on subway walls and the streets of New York. Madonna even paid tribute to Haring, her friend, a few years ago when she used his designs on costumes and backdrops (an homage, perhaps, to the first appearance of his art in her “Borderline” video).

Here in Philly, one of Haring’s remaining murals can be seen at 22nd and Federal Street. He painted it in 1987, just three years before he died from AIDS complications at the age of 32.

Equality Forum honored the artist during LGBT history month. Check it out: