Thursday, October 27, 2011

"Keith Haring Pop Shop"

Keith Haring, Pace Prints, NYC, 2011.
Pace Prints (Gallery) in NYC is currently presenting a collection of prints from the illustrious and infamous Keith Haring (through December 3, 2011). The work of the iconic pop graffiti artist still seems relevant today, some 20 years after his death. In actuality, save for perhaps his absence on subway cars and sides of random buildings, Haring's work is more omnipresent than ever, instantly recognizable, and thoroughly entrenched within the establishment which he once rallied against.

Keith Haring, Pace Prints, NYC, 2011.
From the streets of Chelsea, it might be easy to miss the 3rd floor print division of Pace Gallery. It would seem that Pace is taking over the neighborhood with multiple addresses and exhibits at any given moment. But there, blinking above the High Line park, that shiny beacon of neon caught my attention, and lured me up to find out what this Pop Shop was all about.

Keith Haring, Pace Prints, NYC, 2011.
The collection of prints on view is gorgeous, and delivers everything a Keith Haring fan might expect to see. Including an amazing large-scale print in black and white illustrating the multifaceted portrait which could be any of us. Again, the only word to use for the work of the artist who's career was cut short by AIDS, is iconic. Is is unmistakably Haring.
Keith Haring, Pace Prints, NYC, 2011.
In his abbreviated lifetime, Haring explored graphic impact through his line drawings and paintings of the mostly male form in various states of interaction with himself and others. During 80's era NY, when the galleries and museums ignored the young artist, he took his work to the street, painting on any available surface, and thereby transforming the art world.

Keith Haring, Pace Prints, NYC, 2011.
An early victim of HIV, Haring transformed his revolutionary work into a statement of sexual liberation and a further attack on the establishment, which at the time was turning a blind eye to the ravaging effects of HIV and AIDS on the gay and artistic communities, which were often one and the same.  Some of his work became graphic by both definitions of the word, giving a voice and imagery to a movement.

Keith Haring, Pop Shop, Pace, NYC, 2011.
Having taken his art to the street, the next step for Haring was to bring it to the people. Once he started enjoying some commercial success, Haring opened his Pop Shop in 1986 in downtown Manhattan, democratizing fine art by emblazoning various items with his undeniable imagery.  Pace carries on this tradition with its Pop Shop installation, a side gallery full of Haring inspired (and presumably licensed) merchandise.
Keith Haring, Pop Shop, Pace, NYC, 2011.
And who better to appropriate Haring's graphic design than downtown maven Patricia Field. Scarves, leather jackets, bijoux, and even evening gowns express the collaboration between House of Field and the Haring Foundation. As my first job in NYC was Beauty Manager and Wig Stylist for the Patricia Field boutiques, it is easy to recognize here, Field's flair for the flashy and trashy, expressed through Haring's graphic sensibility.
Keith Haring, Pop Shop, Pace, NYC, 2011.
My favorite interpretation and application was the shoe collection from British designer Nicholas Kirkwood. Somehow it felt appropriately applied and fitting, as if Haring himself had taken a magic marker and beautified a stiletto.

But all of this use of Haring's 'art' two decades after his death got me to thinking: Is this really what Haring would have wanted done with his work? Was this really the direction into mass-marketing and commercialism the artist, once considered an outsider and a rebel would have taken if he were still alive today?

Certainly I am not opposed to 'selling out', and have often been known to implore for someone to just show me the dotted line where I can sign, but when is enough enough and when does it become too much?

I found my answer later that same afternoon, on another block in Chelsea. As I passed the Bed, Bath and Beyond. There, it was staring at me from the window.

Kieth Haring, Bed Bath and Beyond, NYC, 2011.
And when I saw the broom and dust pan and sponge, fully licensed from the Keith Haring Foundation and executed by Casabella, I understood why the Pop Shop at Pace smacked of a souvenir stand in Times Sqaure. Haring's art has become merely a design motif, which often happens to iconic imagery, applicable to any number of products.

All I can say is good for Keith Haring and good for the Keith Haring Foundation. Hopefully the foundation is doing good things with all those royalty checks that must certainly be rolling in. Hopefully, the foundation remembers what the artist himself once stood for: activism, gay rights, ingenuity, rebellion, and a solution to some of the ills of the world. I wonder if the house-wives buying his broom know how Haring sacrificed his own body for his art, painting his naked flesh, the same flesh which betrayed him, cutting short his prolific career at the age of 31. And if not, at least Keith Haring continues to make the world a more beautiful place, one t-shirt and cleaning product at a time.

Keith Haring, Bed Bath and Beyond, NYC, 2011.

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