Street Artist, Pioneer and Activist – Keith Haring’s Biggest Graphic Work is Coming Up for Auction

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Keith Haring was one of the most influential visual artists of the late 20th century and a key member of a group of avant-garde New York-based artists in the 1980s. The distinctive work, which is set to go under the hammer at Bruun Rasmussen, is the largest graphic work ever produced by Haring.

The work “Untitled (Medusa)” from 1986 is executed in Haring’s iconic, linear style. The motif is a Hydra-like figure, with multiple necks branching out into individual bodies.

“Keith Haring’s works are the epitome of New York’s art scene in the 1980s, but this work was created by the artist in Copenhagen and is therefore – unbeknown to many – a Danish slice of the legendary artist’s life and work,” explains Niels Boe-Hauggaard, Bruun Rasmussen’s Head of the Department of Modern Art.

His Biggest Ever Print

The story behind the Medusa work is to be found in Copenhagen at the BORCH Editions printmaking studio. The renowned Danish copper printmaker Niels Borch Jensen met Keith Haring in the summer of 1985, when Haring visited Copenhagen in connection with the ‘Homo Decorens’ exhibition at the Louisiana Museum of Modern Art in Humlebæk.

“I had installed my first large press earlier that day, and we decided to meet at my studio the next day to make the biggest print we could. I prepared the plates, and when he arrived, he set to work immediately, sitting on the floor, without preliminary sketches or drawings. He started with the figure’s shoulders and built the motif from there. It only took him a few hours to complete all three plates,” recalls Niels Borch Jensen.

It was Niels Borch Jensen’s first large-scale printmaking project, and the largest print Keith Haring ever made, measuring over one metre high and almost 2.5 metres wide, in aquatint on Hahnemühle paper.

Artistic Pioneer and Committed Activist

Keith Haring (1958–1990) was a pioneer of the street art movement of the 1980s and became a central figure in American pop art and street art. His dynamic and distinctive style emerged from New York’s graffiti subculture.

Through easily decipherable images, Haring explored complex themes within sexuality, gender, religion and politics to encourage dialogue on topics that are often not widely discussed. His motifs often involved simple figures, symbols and lines in bright colours.

Haring’s work was rooted in the ethos that “art is for everyone”, and his street art helped make art more accessible and visible to ordinary people – from his early drawings in New York subway stations to his famous public murals. Throughout his career, Haring exhibited in galleries and museums worldwide and worked with a wide and diverse range of artists such as Madonna, Grace Jones, William Burroughs, Yoko Ono and Andy Warhol.

He was known, not least, for his activism, and his commitment to social issues was deeply rooted in his artistic practice. He was, among other things, engaged in the fight against HIV/AIDS as well as the nuclear disarmament campaign and the anti-apartheid movement.

Keith Haring died of AIDS, aged just 31.

Created in 1986, “Untitled (Medusa Head)” is signed by Keith Haring. It was produced as a limited edition of 24 and measures 128.2 x 238.7 cm. It is estimated at DKK 750,000-800,000 and will be going under the hammer at Bruun Rasmussen’s Live Auction on 11 June at Nørgaardvej 3 in Lyngby.

Photos: Niels Borch Jensen and Keith Haring, 1986. Photo courtesy of BORCH Editions.

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