Keith Haring - 20th Century & Contemporary Art Evening Sale New York Wednesday, June 23, 2021 | Phillips

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  • Acquired directly from Haring’s primary dealer and friend Tony Shafrazi, Keith Haring’s Untitled belongs to a discrete series of tondo canvases painted in 1985. Grappling with themes of inequality and power, the present composition depicts an outstretched figure being plucked apart by the hands of higher forces. While studying at the School of Visual Arts, Haring developed his highly recognizable figurative style that evidences his interest in semiotics, or the study of signs, to interrogate the ability for images to communicate meaning by stripping them down to their most rudimentary forms. Coalescing the lighthearted appeal of cartoon imagery with the raw energy Jean Dubuffet’s Art Brut, Untitled embodies Haring’s investigations on the systems of power in contemporary culture expressed through simplified, bold outlines. A leitmotif in Haring’s oeuvre, the X-sign on the figure’s stomach signifies a target of anti-establishment, exemplifying Haring’s thematic explorations on social inequity and subjugation.


    Francisco Goya, The Third of May, 1808. Museo del Prado, Madrid, Image: Erich Lessing / Art Resource, NY

    "I think as much as possible, an artist, if he has any kind of social or political concern, has to try to cut through those things, and to expose as much as possible what he sees so that some people think about things that they don’t normally think about."
    —Keith Haring

    In this work, as well as in his monumental Ten Commandments from the same year, Haring reinterprets the dogma of Christianity by inverting its messaging. In an interview about the Ten Commandment series, Haring stated, “The way I worked on the Ten Commandments is: even though it says ‘thou shalt not steal,’ the picture I show is someone stealing: the antithesis. I present what not to do instead of saying ‘this is what you should do.” Reflecting Haring’s interest in subverting religious imagery, the X-sign also symbolizes a cross. In Untitled, Haring carries the religious reference further in the shape of a tondo—a format widely popularized during the Italian High Renaissance and intertwined with the history of Christianity. By infusing this allusion in the work’s very compositional form, Haring communicates his message to viewers with a striking dual force.


    Scheggia, The Triumph of Fame, ca. 1449. The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York

    Often utilized as a motif in classical architecture, the tondo aligned with Haring’s interest in bringing high art into the everyday world. A keen student of art history, Haring may have been inspired to use the circular canvas after a visit to Italy on the occasion of his exhibition at Galleria Salvatore Ala in 1984. In Untitled, Haring adapted his iconic lexicon of signs and symbols to the circular format to make his activist message both universally legible and his own. In the words of Timothy Leary, “Keith [was] a child of Marshall McLuhan, who said, ‘The medium is the message.’ For Keith, his medium is his message.”ii


    Laocoön, 1st century CE. Cortile del Belvedere, Museo Pio Clementino, Vatican Museums, Image: © Vanni Archive/ Art Resource, NY


    i Keith Haring, quoted in Sylvie Couderc, trans. Sylvie Marchand, “The Ten Commandments, An Interview,” December 1985, online.

    ii Timothy Leary, “Memories,” in The Keith Haring Show, exh. cat., Fondazione Triennale, Milan, 2005, p. 148.

    • Provenance

      Tony Shafrazi Gallery, New York
      Acquired from the above by the present owner in 1985

    • Literature

      The Keith Haring Show, exh. cat., Fondazione La Triennale di Milano, Milan, 2005, no. 90, p. 245 (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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signed and dated "K. Haring OCT. 17-85 ⊕©" on the reverse
oil and acrylic on canvas
diameter 35 7/8 in. (91.4 cm)
Painted in 1985.

Full Cataloguing

$1,000,000 - 1,500,000 

Sold for $1,482,000

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