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  • John Sex, Jean-Michel Basquiat, and Keith Haring, 1984. Image: © Ben Buchanan

    Keith Haring’s Untitled (For John Sex) is an electric composition packed with vibrant color and energetic dynamism that was a personal gift to one of the artist’s closest friends, John McLoughlin, better known by his stage name, John Sex. The present work is rendered in Haring’s signature lexicon of symbols and cyphers and depicts a figure hammering a cross into the ground, perhaps a reference to Club 57—the critical locale that would nurture their careers as well as their close friendship. Created in January 1982, just months before Haring's breakout inclusion alongside Jean-Michel Basquiat and Andy Warhol at documenta 7 in Kassel and his first solo show at Tony Shafrazi Gallery, the work encapsulates the vivacious energy of the 1980s New York art scene.

    "[John Sex] was very like Keith, because he was far ahead of everyone else."
    —Samantha McEwen

    Haring moved to New York in the late 1970s after enrolling in the School of Visual Arts, where he met Kenny Scharf, Jean-Michel Basquiat, and John Sex, who studied graphic design at the school and later launched a successful career as a performance artist. On first meeting Haring, Sex recalled, “There was this little gallery space on the first floor, and Keith had painted it from floor to ceiling. I looked at it and said, “This person is really doing something!”i Although Sex “had achieved a reputation as the leading poster artist of the East Village” by the summer of 1980, he “got sick of doing posters for other people....I started making posters of myself and putting them on the street.”ii That same summer, Sex and Haring made 500 Xerox posters for Gay Pride Week and posted them around the city, just before Haring took his drawings to the streets and subways of New York that fall. That same summer, Sex also collaborated with Basquiat, creating a painting that Basquiat frisbeed into the street, on which Scharf reflected, “Jean-Michel was making a painting with John Sex, and they made this wet oil painting and cars were driving over it – it was so cool and punk rock.”iii

     

    A Club to Remember

     

    Keith Haring performing in “Acts of Live Art” at Club 57, June 1980. Image: © Joseph Szkodzinski

    "A lot of people gravitated to Club 57 and they became the central figures of the scene. At the time, there was Kenny Scharf, John Sex, Drew Straub, and me, and we became inseparable."
    —Keith Haring
    Their time at the SVA proved to be a period of prolific experimentation that matched the fever of artistic activity prevalent in the East Village. As the downtown nightclub scene blossomed with the appearances of the Mudd Club, Danceteria, and particularly Club 57, Haring and his contemporaries began dominating New York’s underground creative communities where artists and intellectuals banded together in decadent parties exploring sexual liberation, psychedelics, and artistic freedom. Located at the basement of a church on St. Marks Place in the East Village, Club 57 transformed from religious property to a hedonistic temple home to creative activity by the rising artists of the ‘80s.

     

    As Ann Magnuson remarked, “[Club 57] at any given time...was a dance hall, a screening room, a watering hole, a theater lab, an art gallery, or a self-styled ‘let it all hang out’ encounter group. Sometimes it was all those things at once.”iv Haring curated erotic Day-Glo art shows and other visual arts exhibitions at Club 57, which would lead to his studio residency with P.S. 122 and his later curated shows at the Mudd Club. Haring recalled, “Club 57 not only meant dancing and drinking and sex and fun and craziness, but the beginning of a whole career as the organizer and curator of some really interesting art shows.”v

    "[Club 57] became the neighborhood hangout....We hung out there almost every night, and it could get pretty wild." —Keith HaringSex became famous for his sensational performances at Club 57 and “went on from the club to become one of downtown’s leading men, performing [...] at bigger clubs like Danceteria, the Saint, and Limelight.”vi He also produced dynamic silkscreen posters for club events and organized the club’s most pivotal event series, “Acts of Live Art,” in which Haring performed permutation poetry while holding a television cutout.

     

    Despite its short-lived existence between 1979 and 1983, Club 57 was “the louche headquarters for a now-legendary art movement,” drawing in the likes of Futura 2000, Klaus Nomi, Frank Holliday, Madonna, and other creative spirits.vii  On the club’s significant impact, Jenny Schlenzka observed that “the compressed event calendar and closely packed space generated a creative pressure cooker, bringing together some of the generation’s most imaginative young artists and offering them opportunities to make new work collectively, and in front of supportive audiences, night after night.”viii Imbued with personal resonance and the explosive vitality of New York’s notorious underground arts community, Untitled (For John Sex)  captures the ebullient world of Haring’s milieu.

     

    A Look Into the ‘80s

     

    Kenny Scharf, “CAROUSEL OF PROGRESS,” 1980. Starring: Keith Haring, John Sex, Van Chrome, Stacey Elkin, Katy K., Ann Magnuson, Paris Raves, Bruno Testore, Min Thometz, Oliver Sanchez, Coco Ugaz, Caroline C., Roger X  

     

    i Keith Haring, quoted in John Gruen, Keith Haring: The Authorized Biography, 1992, p. 50.

    ii John Sex, quoted in Steven Hager, Art After Midnight: The East Village Scene, New York, 1986, p. 79.

    iii Kenny Scharf, quoted in Rachel Cole Dalamangas, “Lessons of New York: Kenny Scharf, Part II,” Zing Magazine, May 2014, online.

    iv Ann Magnuson, Club 57: Film, Performance, and Art in the East Village, 1978-1983, exh. cat., Museum of Modern Art, New York, 2017, p. 157.

    v Keith Haring, quoted in John Gruen, Keith Haring: The Authorized Biography, 1992, p. 45.

    vi Ron Magliozzi, Club 57: Film, Performance, and Art in the East Village, 1978-1983, exh. cat., Museum of Modern Art, New York, 2017, p. 19.

    vii Brett Sokol, “Club 57, Late-Night Home of Basquiat and Haring, Gets a Museum-Worthy Revival,” The New York Times, October 26, 2017, online.

    viii Jenny Schlenzka, Club 57: Film, Performance, and Art in the East Village, 1978-1983, exh. cat., Museum of Modern Art, New York, 2017, p. 107.

    • Provenance

      John Sex (gifted by the artist)
      Private Collection, New York
      Acquired from the above by the present owner circa 1987

    • Exhibited

      New York, Queens Museum; Normal, Illinois State University; Tampa Museum of Art, Keith Haring: Future Primeval, September 15, 1990 – August 21, 1991, p. 61 (illustrated)
      Fondazione La Triennale di Milano, The Keith Haring Show, September 27, 2005 – January 29, 2006, no. 15, p. 174 (illustrated)
      Musée d’Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris, Keith Haring: The Political Line, April 19 – August 18, 2013, no. 69, p. 310 (illustrated, p. 202)
      Melbourne, National Gallery of Victoria, Keith Haring Jean-Michel Basquiat | Crossing Lines, December 1, 2019 – April 13, 2020, p. 250 (illustrated)

    • 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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Property of a Private New York Collector

Ο ◆24

Untitled (For John Sex)

signed, dedicated and dated "FOR JOHN SEX K. Haring JAN. 24, 1982 ⨁" on the reverse
acrylic and Day-Glo on wood
23 1/4 x 23 1/4 in. (59.1 x 59.1 cm)
Executed in 1982.

Full Cataloguing

Estimate
$800,000 - 1,200,000 

Sold for $899,000

Contact Specialist

Amanda Lo Iacono
Head of Auctions
New York
+1 212 940 1278

[email protected]

20th Century & Contemporary Art Evening Sale

New York Auction 23 June 2021