Keith Haring, ‘Untitled’, 1983, Phillips
Keith Haring, ‘Untitled’, 1983, Phillips
Keith Haring, ‘Untitled’, 1983, Phillips
Keith Haring, ‘Untitled’, 1983, Phillips

This work is unique.

From the Catalogue:
Executed in 1983, the present lot belongs to the most pivotal time in Keith Haring’s prolific, yet tragically short, practice. Haring created Untitled as a part of a new body of work for his now infamous solo show at Tony Shafrazi’s Lower East Side gallery, titled Keith Haring: Into 1984. Curated by the artist himself, the presentation featured a series of wall reliefs shaped in Haring’s iconic, cartoon-like figures, carved and painted with Day-Glo into raw wood. Accompanied by large-scale photographs of Bill T. Jones taken by Teseng Kowong Chi, the wall-bound works were installed on a mural of red, abstract, gestural strokes painted by Haring himself, which covered the gallery’s perimeter walls. The exhibition drew crowds of visitors including the most famous members of Haring’s downtown inner-circle, such as Andy Warhol, René Ricard and more. As Haring recalled, “the opening is a wild success, thousands of people show up, and the Houston street annex becomes a disco space for an entire month.” The show kicked off the most successful year in Haring’s career, which he himself called “one of my most active, craziest years!” (Keith Haring, quoted in John Gruen, Keith Haring: The Authorized Biography, New York, 1991, pp. 111-112) Following the success of the exhibition, Haring received immediate international acclaim, being invited to Australia by both the National Gallery of Victoria and Gallery of New South Wales for major, site-specific murals. These projects would spearhead an onslaught of commissions and steady, increasing fame for Haring in the art world at large.

Made in collaboration with Haring’s close friend Kermit Oswald from his hometown of Kutztown, Pennsylvania, the present lot belongs to a series of unique, carved reliefs. Oswald provided the raw pieces of wood directly from his frame shop in Brooklyn, which Haring cut into wall-bound shapes. Haring then used a carpenter’s router tool like a pencil to draw his characteristic graphics, including dogs, dancing stick figures, crowns and radios into the wood. Through active line-work, Haring fills the contours of the man with outstretched arms and legs in the present lot with his unique visual language—long-bodied dogs bearing their teeth lunge at Haring’s iconic figures, while caterpillar bodies are shown with computers for heads. These incised wall works represent preoccupations Haring had throughout his career with the increasing influence of technology over humans, as well as his interest in Egyptian hieroglyphics exploring life and death. Probing themes that perhaps feel even more relevant now than ever, the symbolism behind his graphics is currently the subject of a major retrospective of Haring’s works in honor of the 30th anniversary of the artist’s death this year, held at the Albertina Museum in Vienna, where most of the exhibited works are from 1983, featuring similar iconography.

Carved into wood in relief and then filled with fluorescent Day-Glo paint, the present lot visually reverberates throughout the space from the wall on which it hangs, through the mediums of color and line. The energetic force of the work remains, even after it came off the walls of Shafrazi’s gallery in 1984, where it was surrounded by music blasting from a DJ booth and break dancers on the black and white checkered floor. Untitled from 1983 is a celebration of not only the artist’s unique visual language, but it is also a testament to Haring’s lasting influence on the contemporary art scene of the 1980s and beyond.
Courtesy of Phillips

Signature: incised with the artist's signature and date "K. Haring Nov. 83 ⊕" on the reverse; further signed and dated "© 1983 KERMIT OSWALD KEITH HARING" on the reverse

New York, Tony Shafrazi Gallery, Keith Haring: Into 1984..., December 3, 1983 - January 7, 1984

Tony Shafrazi Gallery, New York
Acquired from the above by the present owner in 1983

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