Keith Haring’s vision is fundamental to 80’s nostalgia. His comic book characters are universally recognized, and with his first retrospective of early works at the Brooklyn Museum the artist will continue to be acclaimed. Many can breeze through the show, enjoying the similarities to a schoolboy’s doodles. More profoundly connected to adolescence, a deeper unspoken perspective of the world is illuminated. Once past the playful notions it is a brutal place, both in praise and criticism of his time. The 80’s, while hosting the rambunctious club kid culture and designer drugs (clearly influencing Haring’s joyous paintings) were shadowed by conservative values under the Reagan administration - a powerhouse which sought to ignore, if not extinguish the gay civil rights movement. Though Haring’s art is not popularly known for direct political criticism, the Brooklyn Museum is exhibiting several small collage works made from New York Post headlines slashing the former President. They accuse Reagan of having blood on his hands. These works do not represent Haring’s clear style - unlike the wonderfully intact subway graffiti up for the exhibition – but the collages are profoundly connected to his legacy. He would not only create an iconic motif for the MTV generation but tragically he would succumb to the disease that emerged during the decade. The same disease he criticized the administration for ignoring. His work exists as a crucial reminder of the coming decade’s isolation, alienation and dismissive establishment. But always with the young there is an overpowering message of love and community that gathers amidst the chaos. “Art is for everyone”, is a Haring quote so clearly connected to his work. For this reason, Haring, a man that is definitive of two decades past, will remain eternally current.
Keith Haring: 1978-1982 at the Brooklyn Museum, March 16-July 8, 2012
Image: Keith Haring subway graffiti on view