Keith Haring, ‘Acrobats’, 1986, Sotheby's

Property from the Tommy Hilfiger Collection

This work is the artist's proof from an edition of 5, plus 1 artist's proof.

From the Catalogue
“A painting, to a degree, is still an illusion of a material. But once you cut this thing out of steel and put it up, it is a real thing…It has a kind of power that a painting doesn’t have. You can’t burn it, it would survive a nuclear blast probably. It has this permanent, real feeling that will exist much, much longer than I will ever exist, so it’s a kind of immortality.”
Keith Haring

Keith Haring’s Untitled (Acrobats) is an exuberant, monumental work that succinctly displays in bold colors and in three-dimensions the remarkable pictorial language that came to define the artist’s groundbreaking oeuvre. Having emerged as an artist on the streets and subways of New York at the start of the 1980s, Haring soon rose to fame as a natural draftsman and visual urban poet through the subway drawings: simple, humorous and thought-provoking chalk images on black paper pasted up alongside the ubiquitous advertising posters on the New York underground. These posters also allowed him an outlet for self-expression by doctoring the images and attaching false headlines; 'subvertising' as it became known. Having developed his own socially conscious and pop culture-inspired iconography over the following years through murals, paintings, graffiti and design, Haring announced himself as a sculptor of staggering ability on October 26, 1985 at an exhibition of his sculptural works at Leo Castelli’s Greene Street Gallery in New York. This latest development came as a fundamental step forward for Haring’s own personal sense of his career and the visual development of his inimitable style. Cut from steel and brilliantly lacquered in eye-catching, pop colors, these pieces were intentionally designed for public interaction to the extent that Haring smoothed off the edges, painted them in the colors of children’s toys and encouraged their installation in public places. By keeping the image structurally refined these works are lent a totemic yet lyrical delicacy that is remarkably balanced and instantly recognizable on both the conscious and experiential level. Haring eschewed this populist vision remarking, "The public needs art, and it is the responsibility of a ’self-proclaimed artist’ to realize the public needs art, and not to make bourgeois art for the few and ignore the masses…I am interested in making art to be experienced and explored by as many individuals as possible with as many different individual ideas about the given piece with no final meaning attached. The viewer creates the reality, the meaning, the conception of the piece. I am merely a middleman trying to bring ideas together."

The present work is typical of the artist’s desire to integrate into the community, to touch people’s lives with both his passion for the work and the socially activist message inherent in his articulate and compelling technique. In this aspect of his work it is possible to see Haring attempting to create a memorial for posterity out of the MTV inspired culture of the day. He displayed a deep desire to make sense of a turbulent period in the history of America’s attempts to come to terms with divisive issues such as the Civil Rights movement, homosexuality and AIDS and to link his own oeuvre to that goal. More than anything, sculpture gave him the wherewithal to make the attempt.

With a minimalist palette that brings to mind the stark, monochromatic canvases of Ellsworth Kelly but also imbued with the life and energy of Henri Matisse's paradigmatic Dance from 1910, Untitled (Acrobats) is a testament to Haring's remarkable artistic inventiveness. Just as Matisse captures a contagious sense of joie de vivre through the unrestrained and effortless vivacity of his dancing figures, the present work analogously conjures Haring’s passion for the ineluctable joy of the human spirit. Powerfully representing the physical values of balance, strength, and flexibility, Haring’s Untitled (Acrobats) pays homage to Matisse’s beloved Dance through its palpable sense of human connection amidst a joyously instinctive activity. Untitled (Acrobats) exudes the vibrant cadence and electrifying pictorial language that engendered some of the most emblematic images of the late 20th century.
—Courtesy of Sotheby's

Signature: incised with the artist’s signature and stamped with the date 1986 and number AP 1/1 on the base

New York, Doris C. Freedman Plaza, Keith Haring on Park Avenue, June - October 1997 (another example exhibited)
New York, Battery Park City, Keith Haring: Acrobats, March 2004 - November 2005 (another example exhibited)
Luxembourg, Galerie de Independence and Parc Heintz Fondation, Keith Haring: Works from the Navarra Collection, June - September 2007, pp. 59 and 202-203, illustrated in color (another example exhibited)

Private Collection, Palm Beach

About Keith Haring

Bridging the gap between the art world and the street, Keith Haring rose to prominence in the early 1980s with his graffiti drawings made in the subways and on the sidewalks of New York City. Combining the appeal of cartoons with the raw energy of Art Brut artists like Jean DuBuffet, Haring developed a distinct pop-graffiti aesthetic centered on fluid, bold outlines against a dense, rhythmic overspread of imagery like that of babies, barking dogs, flying saucers, hearts, and Mickey Mouse. In his subway drawings and murals, Haring explored themes of exploitation, subjugation, drug abuse, and rising fears of nuclear holocaust, which became increasingly apocalyptic after his AIDS diagnosis. Alongside Jean-Michel Basquiat, Kenny Scharf, and Jenny Holzer, Haring is regarded as a leading figure in New York East Village Art scene in the 1970s and '80s.

American, 1958-1990, Reading, Pennsylvania, based in New York, New York