Monday, February 16, marked the 25th anniversary of Keith Haring’s death. To celebrate his life, Haring’s former studio manager and personal friend, Julia Gruen (who in 1989 Haring named Executive Director of the Keith Haring Foundation), offered us her thoughts on Haring’s lasting influence on the art world and popular culture. Today, his works live on as one of the most recognized visual languages of the 20th century. As you enter the New-York Historical Society, be sure to check out Haring’s black-and-white abstract ceiling mural from the Pop Shop hanging above the admissions desk.
“Regarding Haring’s continued popularity, I’d say it’s a result of his Foundation’s commitment to keeping his work, his activist ethos, sexual politics, and philanthropy in the public eye, via museum exhibitions, significant grant-making within the sectors established by Haring himself, and the global licensing of his imagery, which together continue to engage, educate, and inspire the younger generation.
That Haring’s sexual identity, imagery, activism and charitable efforts have always been part and parcel of his public profile go without saying. But in the 25 years since his passing, the advent of the internet and social media have changed the world in ways even Haring himself could not have anticipated. The explosion of interest in both contemporary and street art, the changing face of the AIDS epidemic, marriage equality, LGBTQ rights, gender politics, racial tensions, climate change, environmental concerns, animal rights, poverty and inequality, to name but a few hot-button issues, keep relevant the Haring Foundation’s mission to deliver Haring’s messages of tolerance, generosity, accessibility and his unwavering belief in the artist as activist, to a global audience. For those who are intrigued by his art, the causes he believed in and supported (or fought against), the ability to reach this massive audience further cements Haring’s legacy as one of the most influential artists to emerge from the 1980s downtown communities of visual artists, musicians, designers, dancers and performers of all stripes.
Twenty-five years after his death at 31 from AIDS-related illnesses, the issues that plagued the world during his brief lifetime are, for the most part, and regrettably so, still with us. Thus, his work remains of continued relevance and (we hope) continues to enlighten all audiences. And for the younger generations, it doesn’t hurt that certain contemporary public figures and celebrities collect his work, or are seen in films, or on video and TV wearing apparel bearing his imagery – including Madonna, Lady Gaga, Rihanna, Alicia Keys, Kanye West, and Beyoncé, to name just a few.
While always a bit startling, individuals often send messages and inquiries to us that open with, ‘Dear Mr. Haring…’ On innumerable occasions, our Twitter feed includes posts commenting, ‘I didn’t know Keith Haring was dead.’ Perhaps that is the greatest compliment of all.”