Born in Pennsylvania, on May 4, 1958, and was brought up in nearby Kutztown, Pennsylvania. At a very early age, he developed a passion for drawing, learning basic skills in cartooning from his father and from the popular culture around him, such as Dr. Seuss and Walt Disney. Upon graduation from high school in 1976, Haring enrolled in a commercial arts school, the Ivy School of Professional Art in Pittsburgh. He soon discovered he had no interest in becoming a commercial graphic artist and dropped out after two semesters. Haring continued to research and practice on his own while in Pittsburgh, and in 1978 he had a solo exhibition of his work at the Pittsburgh Arts and Crafts.
Haring moved to New York City later the same year and enrolled in the School of Visual Arts (SVA). Haring found a vibrant alternative art culture in New York that formed in the downtown streets, the subways and spaces in clubs and former dance halls outside of the gallery and museum system. He became acquainted with fellow artists Kenny Scharfand,JeanMichel Basquiat here, as well as with the musicians, performance artists and graffiti writers that made up the burgeoning art scene. In the energy and spirit of this scene, Haringwas swept up and started organizing and engaging in exhibits and performances at Club 57 and other alternate venues
Haring was also influenced by the work of Jean Dubuffet, Pierre Alechinsky, William Burroughs, Brion Gysin and Robert Henri’s The Art Spirit manifesto, which proclaimed the artist’s fundamental freedom, in addition to being fascinated by the creativity and energy of his contemporaries. Haring was able to drive his own youthful instincts with these influences into a singular kind of graphic language focused on the line’s primacy. Haring was also drawn to the public and participatory nature of the work of Christo, especially Running Fence, and to the unusual fusion of art and life by Andy Warhol, and was determined to devote his career to the development of a genuinely public art
Haring experimented with performance, video, installation and collage as a student at SVA, while still maintaining a strong dedication to drawing. In 1980, when he found the unused advertisement panels covered in matte black paper in a metro station, Haring discovered a highly efficient medium that enabled him to connect with the wider audience he wanted. On these blank paper panels in the subway system, he started making sketches in white chalk. Between 1980 and 1985, in swift rhythmic lines, Haring created hundreds of these public drawings,
Often making as many as forty “subway drawings” in one day. New York commuters became acquainted with this smooth flow of images, which often stopped engaging the artist when they met him at work. As Haring said, the subway became a “laboratory” to try out his ideas and to play with his simple lines.
Haring gained international recognition between 1980 and 1989 and took part in several group and solo exhibitions. His first solo show in New York was held in 1981 at Westbeth Painters Space. With an enormously successful and critically acclaimed one-man show at the Tony Shafrazi Gallery, he made his SoHo gallery debut in 1982. He also took part in renowned international survey exhibitions during this time, such as Documenta 7 in Kassel; the São Paulo Biennial; and the Whitney Biennial. In the first half of the 80’s, Haring also completed various public ventures, ranging from an animation for the Spectacular billboard in Times Square, designing sets and backdrops for theaters and clubs, producing Swatch watch designs and an Absolut vodka advertisement campaign, and creating murals worldwide.
Haring opened the Pop Shop in April 1986, a Soho retail store selling T-shirts, toys, posters, buttons and magnets bearing his pictures. In an abstract black on white mural, Haring found the shop to be an extension of his work and painted the whole interior of the building, creating a striking and special retail atmosphere. The aim of the store was to give customers greater access to his work, which was now readily accessible for low-cost items. The shop faced criticism from many in the art community, but Haring remained committed to his desire to make his artwork accessible to as large an audience as possible and received strong encouragement from colleagues, fans and mentors, including Andy Warhol, for his project.
I don’t think art is propaganda; it should be something that liberates the soul, provokes the imagination and encourages people to go further. It celebrates humanity instead of manipulating it.
In 1988, Haring was diagnosed with AIDS. In 1989, he founded the Keith Haring Foundation, whose mandate is to provide AIDS organizations and children’s services with funding and imagery and to extend the audience through exhibits, publications and the licensing of his photographs for Haring’s work. During the last years of his life, Haring enlisted his imagery to talk about his own disease and create AIDS advocacy and awareness.
The work of Haring was featured in over 100 solo and group exhibitions during a brief yet intense career that spanned the 1980s. He was the subject of over 40 newspaper and magazine publications in 1986 alone. He was widely sought after, collaborating with artists and performers as diverse as Madonna, Grace Jones, Bill T. Jones, William Burroughs, Timothy Leary, Jenny Holzer, Yoko Ono and Andy Warhol, to engage in collaborative ventures. Haring was able to draw a large audience and ensure the accessibility and lasting power of his imagery, which has become a widely accepted visual language of the 20th century, by communicating universal concepts of life, death, love, sex and war, using the primacy of line and directness of message.
KEITH HARING POP ARTIST OF THE DECADE
On February 16, 1990, Keith Haring died of AIDS related complications at the age of 31. On May 4, 1990, a memorial service took place at the Cathedral of St. John the Divine in New York City, attended by over 1,000 people.
Haring has been the subject of many international retrospectives since his death. Keith Haring’s work can be seen in the galleries and collections of major museums across the globe today.
Over the last five years, more than 5 million museum visitors have queued – and queued up a few more – for a quick glimpse of Yayoi Kusama’s work. The 89-year-old Japanese artist, who has stayed willingly in a mental hospital for the past 41 years, has had large-scale solo exhibits of her work in Mexico City, Rio, Seoul, Taiwan and Chile, as well as big tour exhibitions in the US and Europe. Last year, she opened her own five-story gallery in Tokyo. The Large Museum in Los Angeles recently sold 90,000 $25 tickets in the afternoon to its Kusama show, leading the LA Times to ask if the artist was “Hotter than Hamilton?”
As the numbers have gone up, so the time that any visitor will spend in Kusama’s installations—the interactive “infinity mirror rooms” with colored lights and painted pumpkins and polka dots that represent forever—has gone down. In 2013, the David Zwirner Gallery in New York reduced time slots to 45 seconds for each viewer. Five years later, tourists to the Hirshhorn Museum in Washington, D.C., who had been queuing for more than two hours, were down to half a minute.
When did this happen to you? The most obvious single word to answer is “Instagram.” People – hundreds of thousands of them (see #YayoiKusama or #InfiniteKusama) – take pictures of themselves in Kusama’s special spatial wonderland and share the results. Many contemporary art galleries are currently discussing the concept of an exhibition as a “experience” of uploadable social media. Kusama – in creating a concept that she first proposed in New York in 1966 – has already cornered the market. Kusama confidently took the decision to leave Japan to go to New York though that was a fairly surprising thing to do. Heather Lenz, Director Speaking on the phone last week, Lenz admitted that the smartphone-friendly nature of the job is obviously part of the draw – but said it could only lead to a deeper understanding of Kusama’s career.
In the first of these, Kusama’s childhood, the curious seeds of the art world’s favorite selfie-craze were seeded. Kusama was born into a wealthy family in rural Japan who operated extensive plant nurseries, growing varieties of violets and peonies and zinnias to be sold all over the world. From a very young age, Kusama would take her sketchbook down to the seed-harvesting grounds and sit among the flowers until, as in a fairy tale of the kind of Grimm, one day she saw the flowers crowding in and talking to her. “I thought that only humans could talk, so I was shocked that the violets used words. I was so frightened that my legs started trembling.” This was the first in a series of terrifying hallucinations – she calls them depersonalizations – that haunted her childhood. These episodes seem to have been linked to the dislocations of her home life. Kusama grew up in a very dysfunctional household. Her father was a philander, and her mother sent Kusama to spy on him with her mistresses, but when she reported back, she recalls in her autobiography, “My mother was going to vent all her rage on me.”
“My mother was against me being an artist. She just wanted me to marry a rich man.”
Her mother tried to stop Kusama from painting – ripping the canvas out of her hands and smashing it – demanding that she learned etiquette to make a successful marriage. Kusama kept drawing. It was her way of making sense of her hallucinations: the flowers of the tablecloth that enveloped her and chased her upstairs; the unexpected shimmering of the sky. “When things like this happened, I would hurry back home and draw what I saw in my sketchbook… recording them helped to ease the shock and fear of the episodes,” she remembers.
It seems that many of the motifs that have become her trademarks have been embedded in this tradition. The first Kusama pumpkin to see was with her grandfather. When she went to pick it up, she started talking to her. It was the size of the head of a guy. She decorated the pumpkin and received an award for it, her first 11-year-old. Eighty years later, her biggest silver pumpkin sculptures were sold for $500,000. After the assault on Pearl Harbor, when Kusama was 13, she was forced to work in a factory making parachute fabrics. She painted intricate flowers over and over throughout the evening. In a notice of her first show, the local paper reported her producing 70 aquarelles a day
Watching the stills of Kusama’s early life in Lenz’s documentary – her hair cut straight across her forehead, photographed between flowers – is a sharp and moving contrast to the footage of the artist at work in her studio. The same slightly bulbous eyes look out from under the red wig as she connects her dots with a magic marker, chewing her lip like a girl. “To me,” Lenz says, “Kusama’s childhood trauma was instrumental in her work, not only because of her difficult family, but also because of her society and the nightmare of the Second World War.”
Lenz came to understand these stresses more profoundly because, when making a film, she married from a Japanese family and heard the story of her husband’s grandfather, killed by the Hiroshima bomb, and her mother-and father-in-law, who had an arranged marriage. “That gave me a better understanding of her childhood,” she says. “The standards of the time for a young woman, an arranged marriage, children. Kusama confidently took the decision to leave Japan and go to New York though it was a fairly surprising thing to do.”
The second chapter of Kusama’s journey started when she first visited Georgia O’Keeffe’s work in a bookshop in Matsumoto, her hometown. She found O’Keeffe’s address in New Mexico, and wrote to her for advice on how to make her way into the art world of New York, sending some of her own intricate aquariums of abstract vegetal shapes and bursting seed pods. O’Keeffe answered, puzzled at first why anyone, let alone a young woman in rural Japan, would want to do such a thing, but the interest has grown over a number of years into a kind of mentorship. “The artist has a hard time making a living in this country,” O’Keeffe answered. “You’re just going to have to find the best way you can.”
Kusama arrived in New York in 1958, at the age of 27, with a few hundred dollars sewn in the linen of her dresses, along with 60 kimonos of silk and some sketches. Her intention was to survive the sale of one or the other. In her own account, she initially subsisted on food scraps, including fish heads scavenged from the fishmonger’s trash, which she boiled for soup. She’s been following her job around the area. “One day,” she recalls in her autobiography, “I brought a canvas more than 40 blocks in the streets of Manhattan to present it for consideration at the Whitney Annual. My painting was not chosen, and I had to take it back 40 blocks. The wind was blowing hard that day, and more than once it looked as though the canvas was floating up into the air, taking me with it. When I got home, I was so tired that I slept like a dead man for two days.”
Her breakthrough pieces, the Infinity Net paintings, originated from an earlier collection of aquariums called the Pacific Ocean, which she had made in response to the tracery of waves on the surface of the sea when she first flew from Tokyo. The nets she painted were made of a repetitive singular impasto gesture in small circles, like interlocking scales; the longest canvases were 30ft in length. One of these canvases sold for $7.1m in 2014, a record for a living female artist. The first ones she sold for $75 to fellow artists Frank Stella and Donald Judd in 1962.
Judd and Kusama have been living in the same building on 19th Street in Manhattan for a while. “She’d sit around my apartment and talk, or I’d go down there and talk,” Judd said in a 1988 interview. “She must have worked through the night, as far as I could tell. Most of the paintings were done in one take. I don’t understand how she’d be able to do that, but she’d start in the corner and then go over.” One of the startling aspects about seeing Lenz’s film is the way Kusama appeared to be written out of the history of pop art. There was a period in the 1960s when she shared nearly equal billing – and popularity – with the likes of Andy Warhol and Claes Oldenburg. Part of this eclipse seems to have been by design – Kusama has long said that the Waspish men around her appropriated her original ideas and moved away as their own.
In 1963, she began to create chairs and other objects decorated, fungi-like, with white painted phallic shapes made of stuffed fabric; her piece of resistance was a rowing boat, complete with oars, which she and Judd rescued from a junkyard. It was presented in a box-like room, the walls, the ceiling and the floor of which were papered with 999 silk-screen images of the phallic ship. She saw this as her own private aversion therapy.
“I started making penises to heal my feelings of disgust with sex,” she wrote later. “My fear was the hide-in-the-closet-trembling sort. I was told that sex was filthy, shameful, something to hide. Complicating matters even more was all the talk of ‘healthy families’ and ‘arranged marriages’ and the utter resistance to romantic love… I also experienced a sex act when I was a toddler, and the terror that came through my eye blew up inside me.” There is a grim irony in this act of therapy in that Oldenburg seems to have embraced her soft sculpture technique and Warhol’s repeated wallpaper prints. She was desperate at the way the men around her sought fame for her theories.
Lenz’s film aims to reveal this appropriation. “Every single Q&A I get a question about how true the allegations that these white male artists stole her ideas were,” Lenz says. “Obviously, I’ve reviewed all the dates, and they’re all working out like she said. People who had degrees in art history always questioned this, though; it was as if they didn’t want to change their mind. They know what they know, I suppose.” Kusama saw something like her ideal man in Joseph Cornell, the reclusive genius of the outer world of art, the founder of surreal boxes of found objects, and a man who had always lived with his mother in the 1950s. Cornell became fascinated with Kusama, giving her a dozen poems a day, never hanging from a phone call, so he was there when she picked it up. This was her only known romantic relationship, though, “he didn’t like sex, and I didn’t like sex, so we weren’t having sex.” He wasn’t a very easy guy.
“I think that somehow all Artists related to nature, because that’s the purest form of art, as a universal language. All kinds of animals are perfect, like the way humans do. In my opinion birds, butterflies symbolize feelings and emotions which I can’t explain throughout my portraits of faces only.”
“ COGNITIVE DISSONANCE “ IS INSPIRED BY TRAUMA IN YOUR LIFE AND IF IT’S TRUE WHAT WAS IT?
It’s about private events in my life – losing friends and partners and processing this loss throughout my visual concepts.
WHAT IS YOUR DREAM PROJECT, AND WHAT ARE YOUR UPCOMING PROJECTS.
My dream project would be to make album covers for singers & bands and conceptual projects for big brands where I’m free to create the way I want. My upcoming projects are secrets right now .
HOW WAS YOUR JOURNEY SO FAR IN THE ART CAREER. HOW DID YOU START AND WHAT ARE THE OBSTACLES THAT FACED YOU?
It would ba a lot of pages to tell this story, but I always believed and had faith that I’m meant to create images and be an artist. The greatest obsticle was my self-doubt.