Portrait of Keith Haring as a Young Man: Brooklyn Museum Focuses on Early Years

Before taking the exhibition to Cincinnati, where it finished its run at the Contemporary Arts Center in September, Ms. Platow debuted it, in 2010, at the Kunsthalle Wien, in Vienna, Austria. It was a huge hit—the second-most visited show since the Kunsthalle opened in 1992—proving that Haring has fans the world over. “I think the fact that the show opened in Vienna is a testament to the universality of what he created,” said Tricia Laughlin Bloom, the project curator for the show’s Brooklyn presentation. “His work really speaks across time, space and cultural divides, and that bears out when you look at his exposure internationally.”

People in Europe have heard about the Pop Shop, said Ms. Platow, “and they’ve heard about the East Village.”

Haring may have had his immediate audience in the nightclubs of New York, but, while he was alive, the aesthetic appreciation of his work was more pronounced overseas. “Even in Keith’s lifetime, his work was far more appreciated in Europe,” said Ms. Gruen. “And far more accepted. Those things that caused art connoisseurs to throw their hands up here in America just seemed like no problem in Europe.”

To give the presentation a hometown angle, the Brooklyn Museum has augmented the show with additional archival materials from the foundation as well as works from local private collections according to Ms. Laughlin Bloom.

“We’ll have a set of 20 great Polaroid portraits that Haring did between 1979 and ’82,” said Ms. Laughlin Bloom, “to kind of meet Keith right at the entrance.” She laughed, as if this were in fact a kind of spiritual homecoming for the artist.

That set of original Polaroids is one of those archival pieces that have never before been on view, though reproductions were included in the show in Vienna. “Most of them have titles that are associated with either a holiday or a day in Keith’s life, so it has a documentary feel.”

Another major addition to the show in Brooklyn is a set of 31 of the actual “subway drawings,” drawings Haring made on the walls of New York’s subway system, which has been loaned from a private collection.

Nestled among the display of subway drawings is the show’s crown jewel, a 23-foot Sumi ink scroll painting, Everybody Knows Where Meat Comes From, It Comes From the Store, for which the museum has had to extend a wall. The effect, said Ms. Laughlin Bloom, is of “almost an urban architecture within the exhibition space. You feel like you’re almost in the presence of a skyscraper form. We’re just getting the sense that it’s bringing the city—which was such an important medium for Haring—into our spaces.”

The show includes large collages and exhibition announcements applied directly to the gallery walls; an installation inspired by Haring’s “paper environments,” where he would cover entire rooms in collages lithographs, and drawings, and even hang works from the ceiling; and his famous photos of parties, nightclubs and performance art.

The show promises to reveal an artist who was in many ways ahead of his time. In one of his early diary entries, Haring wrote, “Do computers have any sense of aesthetics? Can an aesthetic pattern be programmed and fed into a computer so that it reasons and makes decisions based on a given aesthetic?” His own work proves the power of the human touch.


Portrait of Keith Haring as a Young Man: Brooklyn Museum Focuses on Early Years