Keith Haring - 20th Century & Contemporary Art Evening Sale London Wednesday, October 2, 2019 | Phillips

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  • Video

    Keith Haring, 'Untitled', Lot 19

    20th Century & Contemporary Art Evening Sale, 2 October 2019

  • Provenance

    Willi Smith, New York (gifted by the artist)
    Thence by descent
    Private Collection, New York
    Skarstedt Gallery, London
    Acquired from the above by the present owner

  • Exhibited

    Dexia Banque Internationale Luxembourg, Keith Haring, 22 June - 15 September 2007, p. 135
    Milan and Padua, Vecchiato Art Galleries, Keith Haring, 8 April - November 2009, p. 52 (illustrated, p. 53)
    Paris, Galerie Laurent Strouk, Keith Haring: in search of the roots of art, 23 October - 27 December 2014, no. 86, n.p. (illustrated)
    Cotonou, Fondation Zinsou, Keith Haring in Cotonou, 14 November 2016 - 7 January 2017, p. 49
    Luxembourg, Zidoun & Bossuyt, KEITH HARING. A NEW HUMANISM, 25 January - 9 March 2019

  • Catalogue Essay

    A powerful expression of freedom emanates from Keith Haring’s Untitled, 1984, as two golden figures dance atop a blackened metallic support with unrepressed joy. Challenging the formal nature of its two-dimensional form, the work exudes a sense of movement that is made evident by the characters’ lively, untroubled activity. Typical of the artist’s cartoon iterations, these characters take on an appearance that is imbued with irrepressible immediacy, only emphasised by the motion lines surrounding their gestures. Propelled beyond the frame they inhabit, the unnamed dancers exist within Haring’s pantheon of similarly composed figures, which he began designing in 1977 and continued deploying throughout his career. An erotic dimension to their connection is made evident by the prominence of their sexual organs, and historical context elucidates that their dances and open sexual expressions are in fact discrete tools to balk against the threat that AIDS represented throughout the latter part of the 1980s. Here, Haring’s minimal – yet bombastic – protagonists flow with political meaning; their cartoonish embodiment of fun and erotica are presented as tokens of life able to vanquish the looming heads of danger and death. ‘Parallel to Haring’s sadness, and his social conscience, ran something else’, synthesised Robert Farris Thompson, ‘an allegiance to the dance in all its powers of transcendence’ (Robert Farris Thompson, ‘Notes on the Art and Life of Keith Haring’, Keith Haring: The Political Line, exh. cat., Fine Arts Museum of San Francisco, San Francisco, 2014, p. 47).

    Adroitly aligning dance with sexual fervour, Haring here employs his signature graffiti-like aesthetic to convey a theme that mobilised a number of politically conscious artists around the world in the 1980s and 1990s. Similarly harnessing his simplified line to capture the essential interactions of human bodies, Bruce Nauman looked at the fleeting nature of sexual relations in his work, in a context where consequences ranged from the innocuous to the fatal. Notably, his Double Poke in the Eye, 1985, deftly explores the rapport between the public and the private, corporeality and violence. Pulsating with alternating forms and colours, the sequentially timed neon wall sculpture reflects the present work’s vibrancy and sense of movement. Nauman’s face-to-face men, whose transitory pointing fingers presage the explicit sexual allusions the artist would materialise in his sculpture, Sex and Death, 1985, find thematical resonance with the interlaced figures in Untitled, whose heads are linked together like cuffs.

    Aside from the sexual tension held by the two dancing figures as they shimmer on the metallic support, there is, in the composition, a celebratory aspect that is further elucidated by the work’s inscription on the reverse, reading ‘New Years Eve 1984 ⨁ FOR WILI SMITH’. Made on the eve of the year 1985, Untitled forms part of a theme Haring employed frequently, and relished engaging with in real life as he threw numerous parties to welcome the New Year. The Eve of 1985 was no exception: surviving footage records boisterous crowds dotted with people of all ages, making their way around rooms where Haring’s art was displayed in downtown Manhattan. This specific iteration furthermore marked the end of another eventful year. 1984 was the year Haring celebrated his notorious 26th birthday at Paradise Garage – where Madonna and Diana Ross were in attendance – the year he body-painted Grace Jones under the watchful lens of Robert Mapplethorpe, the year he travelled extensively, in Italy, France, Brazil and America. Executed in a key moment for Haring, Untitled signals the artist’s growing fame, soon to become of a trademark for the entirety of his oeuvre. At this stage, Keith declared, there was no country he travelled to where he wouldn't find t-shirts with his iconic imagery. He had become something of an international icon; a brand that was as influential in the realm of art as it was in the commercial world.

    A notable aspect of Untitled is its homage to the fashion designer Willi Smith, who was regarded as one of the most successful African-American designers in the fashion industry until his untimely death in 1987, caused by AIDS complications. Captured with the eye of the contemporary viewer, Untitled posits as a time capsule, recording multifarious notions of friendship, celebration, vulnerability, prescient untimeliness. In a diary entry he wrote on 30 October 1984, just two months before the creation of this work, Haring claimed ‘I think the greatest feature of a lot of the images is that they’re not completely explainable and they can have different meanings for different people. That’s something that man seems to have less and less patience for, but in earlier civilizations symbols were much more versatile’ (Keith Haring, ‘1984’, Journals, New York, 1997, n.p.). Conflating meanings that vary in intensity, intimacy and thematic proximity, depending on the changing spectator, the present work is a sumptuous example of Haring’s ‘cartoon surrealist automatism’, which was not just formally prodigious but also quintessentially of its time (Tony Shafrazi in conversation with Carlo McCormick, ‘The Persistance of Memory and the Fortune of Having Been There’, Keith Haring: The Political Line, exh. cat., Fine Arts Museum of San Francisco, San Francisco, 2014, p. 78).

  • 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, inscribed and dated 'K. Haring Dec. 31 © 1984 "New Years Eve 84" ⨁ FOR WILI SMITH' on the reverse
enamel on metal
91 x 101.5 cm (35 7/8 x 39 7/8 in.)
Executed on 31 December 1984, this work is accompanied by a certificate of authenticity from the Keith Haring Studio LLC and is registered under the application number 082009A4.

£800,000 - 1,200,000 

Sold for £975,000

Contact Specialist

Olivia Thornton
Senior Director
Head of 20th Century & Contemporary Art, Europe
+44 20 7318 4099


Rosanna Widén
Director, Senior Specialist
+44 20 7318 4060

20th Century & Contemporary Art Evening Sale

London Auction 2 October 2019