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

      Haring's art and life typified youthful exuberance and fearlessness. While seemingly playful and transparent, Haring dealt with weighty subjects such as death, sex and war, enabling subtle and multiple interpretations. 

      Throughout his tragically brief 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 unused advertising spaces in subway stations. Haring developed and disseminated these icons far and wide, in his vibrant and dynamic style, from public murals and paintings to t-shirts and Swatch watches. His art bridged high and low, erasing the distinctions between rarefied art, political activism and popular culture. 

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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

20th Century & Contemporary Art Evening Sale

New York Auction 23 June 2021