New York- On May 15, Bonhams Post-War & Contemporary Art sale will be led by Keith Haring’s Untitled (1983), one of the artist’s massive unabashed masterworks (estimate on request). Coming to auction for the first time, having its inaugural viewing alongside the 1984 Venice Biennale, this is the work's first public exhibition in over a decade. The painting will be on public view at Bonhams New York from May 4 to the 15.
Muys Snijders, Head of Americas for Post-War & Contemporary Art, commented: “It is an honor to be presenting this extraordinary tarpaulin by Keith Haring to come to auction for the very first time. Untitled, 1983 is a truly exceptional work by the artist — exuberant, yet serious, striking and radiant. This multifaceted tarpaulin stands as a definitive example of the artist’s work and shows his commitment to playfulness whilst challenging its viewers.”
By 1983, New York, and much of the world was gripped with the AIDS epidemic. As a gay man, Haring was very much part of this culture and community, and he would quickly become a strong advocate for both Gay Rights and the AIDS activism that would spring up in the wake of the virus' discovery. Seeing himself as both an artist and an activist from the outset, Haring would use his skills as a communicator through images to help educate and activate change around the world. Haring first started painting on tarpaulin in 1981 at the same time he was making his ‘Subway Drawings’, as it was always his desire to have his work seen by the largest cross section of society. Executed on October 29, 1983, Untitled, painted on a large tarpaulin, measures almost ten square feet (three meters). The tarp connects the work to the street art culture that was taking place around him yet also allows for the work to travel and be displayed internationally, furthering his message arguably more than a mural could.
In the summer of 1984, the work was displayed at Venice Biennale’s Aperto 84 ('Open 84'), a new initiative conceived for the 1980 iteration. Aperto 84 was curated that year by John Roberts, the British critic and writer, and Haring's works were displayed alongside Richard Hambleton amongst others. Within days of being in Venice, it was displayed at the Palazzo della Espozioni in Rome. Much of Haring's exhibitions and connections with Italy were thanks to Salvatore Ala, a famed Italian gallerist, who would own the present work for much of its early history.
Untitled, arguably one of Haring's most complex works compositionally, also carries a strong message - a warning about the complications of unprotected sex. Haring's signature figures can be found throughout the work: an angel, a dog, dancing figures and Mickey Mouse, a subject of fascination for Haring who appears throughout his oeuvre. Mickey is seen to be playfully and sexually provoking a second figure while an angel hangs overhead. The angel is not just an alternative to the devil, but also even alluding to death that might befall him from this choice. Yet, despite this message, there is also joy and life, a juxtaposition that would define much of Haring's best work.