Keith Haring - Evening & Day Editions London Tuesday, June 14, 2022 | Phillips

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  • A totem, or doodem, is a spirit being, a sacred object that serves as an emblem of people. Borne of the North American Ojibwe culture, who believe in tutelary spirits and deities, the term has evolved and been incorporated into various cultures worldwide to represent a personal identification with a spirit guide. Doodem directly translated means ‘to do with one’s heart’ and is connected to a clan or ancestry, linking the living to the dead, and the past to the present. 


    For Keith Haring, who had been drawn to the imagery of ancient and primitive cultures throughout his career, the symbolic spiritualism of a totemic object made it the perfect form for his own idiosyncratic visual lexicon of signs and symbols. Made the same year as the artist was diagnosed with AIDS, the sarcophagus shape recognises man’s mortality but hints at an embalmed, immortal afterlife. Within the confines of the concrete sarcophagus outlines, Haring’s energetic and busy figures are pushing the boundaries in which they’ve been encased. Jumping and reaching toward the sun, the two figures at the top of Totem are living, striving for that which we all chase. Reflective of Haring’s own history, challenging societal norms, Totem captures the vitality of life but reminds us of its impermanence.  

    'The drawings I do have very little to do with classical, post-renaissance drawings, where you try to imitate life or make it appear to be life-like. My drawings don’t try to imitate life; they try to create life, to invent life. That’s a much more so-called primitive idea, which is the reason that my drawings look like they could be Aztec or Egyptian or Aboriginal… and why they have so much in common with them. It has the same attitude towards drawing: inventing images. You’re sort of depicting life, but you’re not trying to make it life-like. I don’t use colours to try to look life-like, and I don’t use lines to try look life-like. It’s also much more Pop, I guess, after growing up in a really carbon-and comic-dominated period. And, also, growing up with Pop art.'
    —Keith Haring 

    Shabti of Neferibre-saneith, 6th century B.C., Szepmueveszeti Muzeum, Budapest. Image: The Museum of Fine Arts, Budapest/Scala, Florence
    • Provenance

      Schellmann Art, Munich

    • Literature

      Jörg Schellmann, ed., Forty Are Better Than One, Munich/New York, 2009, pp. 144-145

    • 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.

      View More Works

Property of an Important German Collector


Totem (Concrete)

Cast concrete wall relief.
179.5 x 54.5 x 5 cm (70 5/8 x 21 1/2 x 1 7/8 in.)
Signed and dated in black felt-tip pen on the accompanying metal plaque, a proof aside the edition of 25 (there were also 5 in Roman numerals and 7 artist's proofs), published by Edition Schellmann, Munich and New York.

Full Cataloguing

£60,000 - 80,000 

Sold for £138,600

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Robert Kennan
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Anne Schneider-Wilson
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Evening & Day Editions

London Auction 14-15 June 2022