Keith Haring had the great good fortune to become one of the most iconic and recognizable of the downtown artists of the 1980s—and while it was fairly obvious that he was gay and that his sexuality played some role in his work, a lot of people may be unaware that, on certain occasions, he expressed that side of himself far more fully in his art. Not all of it was fit for T-shirts or refrigerator magnets, in other words.
In 1989 Haring took over the second-floor bathroom of the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender Center on 13th Street in Greenwich Village—the exact address is 208 West 13th Street—and turned every blank surface he could find into an astonishing tableau of his familiar figures throbbing with every kind of imaginable urge. The title of the mural is “Once Upon a Time.” In effect, it’s a pre-AIDS bacchanal, and the images are at once reminiscent of a smutty Hieronymus Bosch and (this might just be me) the stately public friezes that Gustav Klimt instigated in fin-de-siècle Vienna, which at the time were considered shocking (they don’t seem shocking today). There’s a lil’ Picasso in there, too.
A year and a half ago, the restoration on the site was completed—the space has been converted from a bathroom to a meeting room. According to the LGBT Community Center’s website, the mural is currently “under wraps” because of construction, but ordinarily it’s available to be viewed by the public (however, I’m not certain of the viewing times; it’s not a museum, so it’s probably best to call in advance).
These pictures are pretty NSFW—I think they’re very nice but your cubicle co-worker might not share the opinion.
I know perfectly well that these shirts are little more than a quick grab at fashion trendiness, but I like ‘em anyway. The whole idea of a French firm assigning American sports jerseys to various iconic creative people (none of whom would probably be able to tell apart a catcher’s mitt from a hockey stick) seems pretty witty to me.
These come from a French fashion outfit called LES (ART)ISTS, who say that these designs were inspired by “American football jerseys,” which seems fair enough.
The regular T-shirts are €45 ($60), and the flannel versions are €99 ($133). Actually, they seem to have only the b/w version (such as the KAWS one) on their site. I prefer the more playful and colorful ones, they strike me as much more clever and engaging.
The odds are that the numbers were chosen more or less at random, but I can’t help reading meanings in (busted, I’m a sports fan). WARHOL 23 makes sense for anyone who knows who Michael Jordan is [Update: DM reader “ThatGuy” points out that Warhol is 28 on all three shirts], and beyond that, I admire the use of rather high numbers. In baseball high numbers are generally used for scrubs who don’t play, the types who make it to spring training and then don’t make the squad. If we’re talking football, the numbers have specific meanings—for instance, a number in the 80s means you’re a wide receiver, anywhere from 50 to 79 means you’re either a lineman or a linebacker, and so on.
Haring risking arrest to wish New Yorker’s a happy Valentine’s Day
Aired on January 20th, 1990, this French interview was recorded soon before Keith Haring’s death at age 31 from AIDS-related complications. Haring is warm and charismatic throughout, graciously venerating his peers and responding earnestly to questions about his decision to mass market his work.
While Haring’s art has certainly proved lucrative (some of his sweeter images even grace baby bibs nowadays, much of the income going to The Keith Haring Foundation for pediatric AIDS), he was an artist of the people, and originally opened his “Pop Shop” boutique to make his work available to “not only collectors, but kids from the Bronx.” Many critics thought this actually hurt his reputation with “serious” collectors (i.e. big money), since many were less interested in art so easily accessible to the hoi polloi.
In an awkward/endearing moment, the interviewer asks Haring how much his paintings actually sell for, to which Haring replies, “Now it’s ridiculous.” Upon further pressing, Haring says incredulously that some small drawings had recently sold for, ahem, $25,000, each. Apparently all those graffiti fines were actually a sound investment. And so would an investment be in a small Keith Haring original…
I was going to post a short notice about these two sure to be interesting evenings at NYU this week, but I thought the story told by the press release was worth presenting here in full.
Of mild interest to DM readers, my own tape-recorded recollections of the late Nelson Sullivan are part of this archive (I knew Nelson and rented a tiny room from him for about 6 months in his ramshackle house at 5 Ninth Ave. when I was 21). Robert Coddington, who valiantly cataloged this amazing collection and kept it together, is a friend of mine and someone I hold in high regard. It’s really a tribute to his scholarship and tenacity that this collection is going to be housed at NYU, where it belongs, for future scholars who want to understand what happened “downtown” during the 1980s (I can’t help but to add “...before NYU drove up the property values and forced all of the bohemians out!”). Robert, and the wonderful Dick Richards, the real hero of this story (and a man who should have a documentary made about him) have done history a big favor, they really have.
The 1980s were the plague years in NYC, make no mistake about it. A lot of us had close friends who died. But it was also a fun, decadent and deeply weird time to have been young. Sullivan’s tapes capture that time like literally nothing else could.
Long Days’ Journey Downtown—Nelson Sullivan’s Video Archive Back in NYC After 23 Years
Completing a trek across many miles and more than two decades, a remarkable trove of video tapes chronicling the golden age of New York’s 1980s club scene is back where it was created—in downtown Manhattan. In October, New York University’s Fales Library & Special Collections accepted the Nelson Sullivan Video Archive as a donation from Atlantans Dick Richards and David Goldman, and Robert Coddington of Durham, N.C.—operating collectively as the 5 Ninth Avenue Project.
On April 25, the Fales Library will host a panel discussion to mark the archive’s official entry into its collections. Coddington will talk about Sullivan’s body of work, and how he and his partners worked to preserve it. Several artists featured in the video tapes also are expected to attend and add their recollections of Sullivan and the scene he documented. The event begins at 6 p.m. on April 25 at the Fales Library, third floor, Elmer Holmes Bobst Library, 70 Washington Square South. This event is free and open to the public.
In the early 1980s, Nelson Sullivan began using then-newly available portable video technology to document the highs and lows of downtown’s world of invites, catfights, train wrecks and rising stars. The equipment was heavy and expensive, but night after night Sullivan lugged it along from SoHo to Coney Island and all points inbetween—from huge discos (like Limelight and Tunnel) to tiny dives (like the Pyramid) and private parties (where he circulated with Warhol-era superstars and freshly minted celebrities like RuPaul and Deee-Lite).
Sullivan’s video archive grew rapidly, taking up shelf after shelf in the creaky three-story townhouse he rented in the Meatpacking District (at 5 9th Ave. and Gansevoort, today site of the restaurant 5 9th). And while he accommodated friends’ requests for copies, he jealously guarded the original tapes—confident he would one day devise a way to present them to the world. Finally, in the spring of 1989, Sullivan decided to make the collection his life’s work: He quit his job at the famous Joseph Patelson Music House (just across from Carnegie Hall’s stage door) and set out to launch a public access cable program showcasing his tapes. But tragically, after completing just one episode, he died of a sudden heart attack in the early morning hours of Independence Day. Seven years after it began, Sullivan’s quest to document the downtown scene was over.
Sullivan’s one-of-a-kind archive might have been picked apart by souvenir-hunters—or worse, left on the curb—had it not been for Dick Richards. Though grief-stricken at the loss of his lifelong friend—the two grew up together in rural South Carolina—Richards acted quickly, flying to New York, securing the collection, and shipping it to the Atlanta home he shared with his domestic partner David Goldman and his business partner Ted Rubenstein (co-founder, with Richards, of Funtone USA, which released RuPaul’s first three recordings).
“The video archive Nelson had created was so extraordinary that I knew I had to do whatever I could to save it,” Richards recalls. “What Nelson was doing was entirely unique. When you watch the tapes, you’ll search in vain to find another person who’s video taping these events. With AIDS ravaging the community and changing it forever, his was basically the only personal video testimony of a scene that was rapidly disintegrating.”
Back in Atlanta, Richards publicized the tapes by showing selections on “The American Music Show,” the weekly public access cable program he co-produced with Potsy Duncan and Bud “Beebo” Lowry.
Then, on a 1993 trip to tape the show at Foxy’s Lounge in Chicago, Richards and Goldman met Robert Coddington, who was involved in the Windy City’s club scene and burgeoning Queercore movement. Coddington, 23, longed to learn about the wild days that had preceded his own coming of age in the gay community, and upon hearing about the archive was eager to learn of the lost landscape it revealed.
“As a young gay man at the time, I had this acute sense that I was arriving at a fabulous party—five minutes after the lights came on,” Coddington says. “I knew that AIDS was ripping apart the gay culture that had existed before. I began to ask myself What was that world and what were those people like? Upon experiencing Nelson’s tapes, I began to learn the answers to those questions.”
Beginning in 2001, Richards and Coddington worked together to organize and chronicle the collection, producing four highlight DVDs (“Mad About Manhattan,” “The Club Kids,” “Nelson Sullivan’s Fabulous Friends,” and “Legends of New York”). In 2004, Coddington edited Sullivan’s “My Life In Video” for the New Museum’s East Village USA exhibition, which also featured works by Basquiat, Kenny Scharf, Keith Haring and Nan Goldin. In 2007, Coddington presented and discussed archive highlights at Atlanta’s Eye-Drum Gallery. Richards launched a YouTube channel dedicated to the collection: To date, it has logged more than 750,000 views.
Sullivan’s videos have been shown in more than 20 solo and group shows and film festivals across Europe, Australia, South America and North America. Videographers from Switzerland and France produced short documentary films on Sullivan for Europe’s ARTE channel. Los Angeles-based World of Wonder created a film on Sullivan for Britain’s Channel 4.
But as the collection’s fame spread, its ultimate survival was far from certain. The archive of more than 600 tapes remained boxed in a back room at Richards’ and Goldman’s century-old house in Inman Park (site of the 1864 Battle of Atlanta). Without an institutional “forever home,” the three partners feared the tapes’ initial escape from the dumpster might have been only temporary.
That’s when Sullivan’s videos got a powerful champion in the form of the Fales Library. The addition of the archive brought an exciting new dimension to Fales’ Downtown Collection, which already included the papers of such influential entities as the Gay Cable Network, the Red Hot Organization, Dennis Cooper, Michaelangelo Signorile, Richard Hell and Ande Whyland.
“Nelson Sullivan was the chronicler of the demimonde downtown New York scene,” said Marvin J. Taylor, director of the Fales Library. “He was everywhere that was important at just the right time. But, he was more than that. When Nelson turned his video camera on himself as flaneur of downtown, he found his own artistic, queer, postmodern voice. We’re honored to have Nelson’s videos here at NYU.”
“Seen on the Scene”
Here are a few of the personalities of note featured in the Nelson Sullivan Video Archive. Click on the links to view selected clips.
A lecture/screening presented by Robert Coddington will take place on Wednesday April 24 at the Einstein Auditorium in NYU’s Barney Building on Stuyvesant Street. It is free and open to the public and will feature videos of Keith Haring, Rock Steady Crew, RuPaul, Leigh Bowery, Ethyl Eichelberger, Fran Lebowitz, Michael Musto, Lady Miss Kier and more…
The following evening, Thursday April 25th, at the third floor Fales Library at the Elmer Holmes Bobst Library on Washington Square South, there will be a celebration of the life and work of Nelson Sullivan with Michael Musto, Lady Miss Kier, Robert Coddington, drag historian Joe E. Jeffreys, performance artist Flloyd and photographer Paula Gately Tillman.
In 1986, Keith Haring got a $25 ticket for painting graffiti on a handball court in East Harlem. Perhaps sensing the crack epidemic of the 1980s reaching a fever pitch, the Parks Department contacted him months later with a request to finish the mural. The two murals on either side of the wall not only still stand, the Parks Department has officially named the park the “Crack is Wack Playground,” acknowledging it among the most salient dedications of public art in the city.
Haring, one of the quintessential New York City artists, died in 1990 of AIDS related complications, and in a poignant way, signaled the passing of a cultural moment.
Dennis Hopper was 13 when he first sniffed gasoline and watched the clouds turn into clowns and goblins. There was little else to do in Dodge City, where he had been born and raised. Catch lightning bugs, fly his kite, burn newspapers, swim. Hopper was, by his own words, “desperate”. A sensitive child without the stimulation to keep his fevered imagination in check.
He went to movies and watched Abbott and Costello and Errol Flynn. Hopper od’ed on gasoline fumes and became Abbott and Costello meets Errol Flynn, and wrecked his grandfather’s truck with a baseball bat. It was a hint of what was to come.
Signed at 18 on contract to Warner Bros, Hopper identified with Montgomery Clift, Marlon Brando, and James Dean, but found he was expected to conform to the studio’s whims. Hopper was too sensitive to conform, and his vulnerability saw him bullied and picked on by old time studio director Henry Hathaway, who had him black-balled from Hollywood.
For the next few years, Hopper did little work. Instead, he picked up a camera and documented the social and cultural changes that were happening across America, and to himself, during the 1950s and 1960s. He also became a “gallery bum”. Where others went to the beach, Hopper hung around art galleries looking for inspiration for his acting career.
He met and became friends with the young artists whose works were exhibited - Andy Warhol, Robert Rauschenberg and Ed Ruscha - and he started to collect, but it wasn’t about the money.
“My idea of collecting is not going and buying bankable names, but buying people that I believe are really contributing something to my artistic life.”
This short film takes us inside the late actor’s home-studio, where he gives a quick tour around his collection of Modern Art works, from Julian Schnabel, Jean Michel Basquiat, Keith Haring, and Ed Ruscha.
To coincide with the Keith Haring: 1978-1982 exhibition at the Brooklyn Museum, New York, the Keith Haring Foundation has scanned the artist’s journals and will be posting one page a day for the duration of the show. The first few pages are already available here. Nothing startling to see yet, but one to keep an eye on.
For details of Keith Haring: 1978-1982 at the Brooklyn Museum, check here.
More pages from Keith Haring’s journals, after the jump…
When he came to New York as a student, Keith Haring thought the city’s graffiti the “most beautiful things” he had seen.
“The kids who were doing it were very young and from the streets, but they had this incredible mastery of drawing which totally blew me away. I mean, just the technique of drawing with spray paint is amazing, because it’s incredibly difficult to do. And the fluidity of line, and the scale, and always the hard-edged black line that tied the drawings together! It was the line I had been obsessed with since childhood!”
It was whilst traveling by subway that Haring noticed the black paper panels used to cover old adverts, and thought, “These are dying to be drawn on!” Haring picked up some chalk and began drawing his now trademark figures.
“Every two weeks, I’d add new elements to the drawings, Often I’d do thirty or forty drawings in one day. Now I found a way of participating with graffiti artists without really copying them, because I didn’t want to draw on the trains. Actually, my drawing on those black panels made me more vulnerable to being caught by the cops - so there was an element of danger. Well, I started spending more and more time in the subways. I actually developed a route where I would go from station to station to do just those drawings.”
Haring worked hard, and his images spread across the city. By 1982, he had his first one man show. Barbara Haskell, Curator at the Whitney Museum of American Art, claimed Haring made work that was:
“...accessible and generic enough to be accepted by everyman without any critical intervention…”
In so doing, Haring (along with Jean-Michel Basquait and Kenny Scharf) by-passed the Art Establishment, attacked the Art World’s inherent elitism and spoke directly to the public. This allowed Haring to promote debate on issues of politics and sexuality.
Elisabeth Aubert’s film Drawing the Line: A Portrait of Keith Haring skirts around any controversy, sticking to Haring’s irresistible rise and tremendous success during the 1980s. There are choice interviews with the usual suspects, Tony Shafrazi, Barbara Haskell, Dennis Hopper, but most importantly, it is Haring himself who delivers the best.
Haring’s art was essentially ephemeral in nature, which made it precious but also leant itself well to mass production. In many respects mass production ensured Haring’s success and public profile. This has ensured the incredible success of his estate since his tragic and untimely death in 1990. Too often the money aspect (the gimmicky success of his art as pencil cases, greetings cards and wrapping paper), tends to overshadow Keith Haring the man - the brave and powerfully exhilarating creative life force, whose natural exuberance still inspires.
An estimated 60,000 people will attend this year’s Art Basel fair, which opens Wednesday until June 19. Art Basel is considered the world’s top fair for modern and contemporary art, with 300 galleries displaying more than 2,500 artists, with an estimated combined value of nearly $2 billion.
Art Basel is important as it gives a better idea of the international art market than other fairs, which tend to be dominated by galleries from the host country. This year Art Basel has 73 galleries form the USA, 50 from Germany, 32 from Switzerland, 31 from England, and 23 from France. The still-emerging markets of India, Brazil, China and Russia are less well represented, with a combined total of 12 galleries, while Hungary, Thailand, and Lebanon represented for the first time.
Here’s a selection of some of this year’s exhibits, more of which can be seen here.
Here’s some great, candid footage of Grace Jones on the set of the 1986 film Vamp. First there’s an interview in some amazing Egyptian headgear, and then a strangely intimate video of her rehearsing for the role as the two thousand year old vampire Katrina with the film’s director Robert Wenk. I’ve been a huge fan of Ms Jones for a long time, but have to admit I have never seen this film, even though the whole thing is up on YouTube. I will someday, even if it is just for her amazing outfits, and the Keith Haring body art. Although I get the feeling that you could dress her in random items pulled from a garbage truck and she would still look breathtaking, it’s funny how different Grace comes off in her interviews to her public image - articulate, funny, warm, even slightly goofy. I’d definitely hang with her.
After the jump, Grace rehearses for a scene in Vamp, plus the scene itself.
Club 57’s entertainment, much of it rooted in punk rock and an ironic take on campy TV re-run culture, had the same kind of “let’s get up and put on a show” spirit as a Judy Garland/Mickey Rooney musical, but against a much more decadent backdrop. It’s fascinating to see how this era is being defined by contemporary art historians, as well as first rate digital fare like this unique portfolio.
From photographer Robert Carrither’s statement:
I lived in New York during the early ‘80s, a very special unique time of creativity in New York. I was a regular at a place called Club 57 in the basement of a Polish church on St. Marks in the East Village. It was a creative laboratory that would change night after night with themes and happenings. One night there would be an art opening and then another night there would be bands, films or a crazed theme party. Many talented and fun people developed their art at Club 57 throughout this time. The following photographs capture some of these memorable people through portraits or at the various events.
Each of these photos has its own story. Please read them and you can understand each one better.
Carrithers: “Ann Magnuson was one of the founders and the first creative manager of Club 57. She developed her performance skills night after night going from one incredible character into the next. From Soviet lounge singer to country and western to heavy metal. She went from performance artist in the downtown 80’s New York to the thirteen all-girl band Pulsallama (and was the lead singer and lyricist for the band Bongwater and in the fun heavy metal band Vulcan Death Grip). She went on to Hollywood films and TV. A charming, talented chameleon performer. There really is way too much to write about her. It is best to go to and see for yourself: www.annmagnuson.com.”
Carrithers: “I guess I do not need to write too much about Keith. He was a regular at Club 57 and had his first shows there. He took off as an artist not so long after. An inspiring person and artist of the early 80’s in New York. I photographed him at one of his first shows outside of Club 57 somewhere on the west side of New York City.”
In the mid-1980s Grace Jones’s body became the flesh canvas upon which Keith Haring created some of his most striking images. In the process, Haring contributed to Jones’s reputation as an innovator of cutting edge style and fashion. She wore Haring’s body paint in the video for her song I’m Not Perfect and in live performance at New York City’s Paradise Garage.
Body painting was a natural extension of the ephemeral nature of Haring’s art. Like subway graffiti and street art, it isn’t intended to last.
I remember the days before Haring became famous, when his “Radiant Baby” graffiti was as ubiquitous on the streets of New York as the smell of urine and the sound of ghetto blasters. For awhile, Haring was New York.
In the above photo we see Haring preparing Jones for her role in the 1986 movie Vamp, in which she portrays Katrina the Queen of The Vampires.
The music in this clip from Vamp is by Jonathan Elias who produced Jones’s Bulletproof Heart album.
Witness “The Spectrum” a fantastically psychedelic carnival fun house designed by Keith Albarn (father of Damon Albarn, a man considered a musical god in this household). Sadly this British Pathe film short is probably the only thing that remains of it and there is little to no information about it anywhere on the Internet. I’d have loved a chance to see this in person!
Watching this I got to thinking about a different druggy funhouse on this side of the pond—also no longer standing—the infamous Palladium night club of New York City. Once the fabled Palladium Ballroom, where Judy Garland, Frank Sinatra, Frank Zappa, Patti Smith, The Clash and Lou Reed all played, the Palladium reopened in 1985 owned by former jailbirds Steve Rubell and Ian Schrager, who had previously run Studio 54. Artists like Francesco Clemente, Jean-Michel Basquiat, Keith Haring, Kenny Scharf, Laurie Anderson and Arata Isozaki were all commissioned to build installations.
The staircase was amazing (especially if you were super high!) and the Basquiat mural behind the upstairs bar was nothing short of astonishing (and really huge). A house would crash from the ceiling onto the dance floor like the one that killed the Wicked Witch of the West. It was a fantastically decadent place to spend one’s youth. Now it’s an NYU dorm with a Trader Joe’s grocery store downstairs! (I wonder if they were able to preserve the Basquiat? It was painted on the wall and probably as valuable as the real estate itself).