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  • Catalogue Essay

    KEITH HARING DIED of AIDS-related complications at the age of thirty-one, two months after the 80s had ended. Haring’s work and the tragic consequences of AIDS both had a profound and lasting influence on the art world at that time, and have since come to define the decade.
    The screenprint Silence Equals Death was produced as a fund-raiser for Outreach Fund for AIDS in 1989. The image comprises three color silk screens. Firstly, a flat black square not only suggests death but also recalls the black advertising spaces Haring used early in his career. The second screen is the fluorescent pink triangle. A pink triangle pointing down was used as a badge in Nazi concentration camps to identify homosexual men. This symbol was inverted and appropriated by Gay activists groups throughout the 80s, notably by The AIDS Coalition To Unleash Power (ACT UP), by whom it was used alongside the slogan “SILENCE = DEATH” as its logo. Undoubtedly Haring was attracted to this simple and succinct form, as well as to its evocation of the pyramid icon he used throughout his career to symbolize civilization. The third and final screen, in silver reflective ink, is a tangle of line-drawn figures, the cumulative effect of which resembles the heaps of bodies seen at the liberation of the concentration camps. The faceless figures cover their eyes and ears with their hands, perhaps rubbing their crying eyes or covering their ears to shut out the horror they witness, or perhaps to remain in ignorance.
    During his career, Haring made over 60 editions, working with print publishers worldwide. Printmaking was a continuation of Haring’s commitment to accessibility in his art. Capable of being reproduced and readily distributed, the print, or multiple, allowed him to disseminate his ideas widely in a commercial format. Although he used many print methods, including etching, lithography and woodcut, the screenprint, with its commercial associations recalling the slick, flat color of sign painting and advertisements, proved a natural fit for him.
    A symbol frequently seen in his work is the image of a ‘radiant baby’, a symbol of purity and innocence which many interpret as a self-portrait. Haring’s art and life typified youthful exuberance, even naivety and fearlessness. Throughout his career Haring refined a visual language of symbols which he called icons, the origins of which began with his trademark linear style scrawled in white chalk on the black paper pasted on unused advertising spaces on the walls of subway stations. These images became ubiquitous throughout New York and developments of this form permeated the popular culture of the time. Throughout his brief yet prolific career, Haring developed and disseminated these icons far and wide, from public murals to t-shirts, from paintings to Swatch watches. His worked bridged high and low culture, erasing the distinction between art and product, the artist and activist. While seemingly playful and transparent, Haring’s art dealt with weighty subjects such as death, sex and war, so enabling subtle interpretations and multiple meanings.

  • Artist Biography

    Keith Haring

    American • 1958 - 1990

    Born in Reading, Pennsylvania, Keith Haring moved to New York City in 1978 at the age of 20 to study at the School of Visual Arts. By the early 1980s, Haring rose to prominence for his graffiti drawings made in the New York subways and streets. Alongside his friends Jean-Michel Basquiat and Kenny Scharf, who he met at the SVA, Haring became a leading figure of the East Village art scene through the 1970s and 1980s.

    Best known for his cartoon-like imagery developed through bold lines and vibrant colors, Haring refined a visual language of symbols that simplified forms to their most essential elements. Exploring the themes of birth and death, sex and war, social inequality, and love, his art bridged the high and low, erasing the distinctions between rarefied art, political activism, and popular culture. Despite his tragically brief career, Haring created a universal visual language embraced throughout the world, and his works are housed in many major collections including the Museum of Modern Art, New York, Los Angeles County Museum of Art, Art Institute of Chicago, Musée d’Art Moderne de Paris, Ludwig Museum, Cologne, and Nakamura Keith Haring Collection in Hokuto, Japan.

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Silence Equals Death

1989
Screenprint in colors.
33 x 33 in. (83.8 x 83.8 cm).
Signed, dated and numbered `HC 3/25’ in pencil (an hors commerce impression, the edition was 200 and 25 artist's proofs), published by the Outreach Fund for AIDS, framed.

Estimate
$8,000 - 12,000 

Sold for $10,000

80s

17 December 2010
New York