Top Lots at Auction
WORK IN PROGRESS
#1. Untitled (1982)
Sotheby’s New-York, 18 May 2017
Acrylic on vynil tarpaulin with metal grommets
121 1/2 x 118 3/4 inches (308.6 x 301.6 cm)
#2. Untitled (1984)
Christie’s London, 30 June 2021
Acrylic on canvas, in four parts
Each: 60 x 60 inches (152.4 x 152.4 cm)
Signed and dated ‘K. Haring APRIL 18 – 1984’ (on the overlap)
Originally owned by the celebrated German gallerist Paul Maenz—who unveiled the work in Cologne shortly after its creation—Keith Haring’s Untitled is an extraordinary masterpiece that prophesies the dawn of a new era. Dating from 1984, the year that the first Apple Macintosh was released, it stands among the earliest painterly depictions of a computer, heralding the birth of the digital age. Across four conjoined panels measuring nine square metres, a sci-fi bacchanal unfolds: flying saucers collide mid-air, while angels soar, monsters writhe and disembodied limbs pluck aeroplanes from their flight paths. At the centre, the computer reigns, mounted on a pyramid like an ancient deity. The structure assumes an anthropomorphic form, with the machine serving as the head; its outstretched arms, like scales, hold a spaceship and a human brain, as if triumphantly having superseded both as the world’s determining force. Tiny figures bow down before it, their arms raised in ecstatic worship. Loaned to the Neues Museum, Weimar, between 1993 and 2005, the work captures the clairvoyant power of Haring’s art: he could not have known that, nearly forty years later, it would be possible to buy the painting in cryptocurrency.
Haring’s various mythic allusions coincided with the birth of a new, contemporary legend: the rise of the home computer. Following the release of the IBM PC in 1981, Apple unveiled their iconic Macintosh model on 24 January 1984. The television advert, directed by Ridley Scott, was broadcast two days prior, during the third quarter of the Super Bowl. It riffed on George Orwell’s novel Nineteen Eighty-Four, which—written in 1949—predicted a dystopian society set twenty-five years in the future. ‘On January 24th, Apple Computer will introduce Macintosh’, concluded the advert. ‘And you’ll see why 1984 won’t be like “1984”.’ Ironically, Haring’s response to the Zeitgeist seemed to suggest quite the opposite, foretelling a veritable apocalypse in which technology would bend human, natural and supernatural forces to its will. Speaking of the painting twenty years later, Maenz hailed the artist’s foresight: ‘when you think when it was painted, we didn’t even have cell phones, we didn’t have computers on everybody’s desks, laptops and iPads’, he explained. ‘… Keith had a very good idea about the world we live in now. I think this painting is really packed with vision and that’s why I think it’s an important work of art’ (P. Maenz in conversation with Christie’s, September 2018).
#3. Untitled (1986)
Sotheby’s New-York, 12 May 2021
Acrylic on canvas
60×60 inches (152.4 x 152.4 cm)
Signed and dated JAN. 22 1986 on the overlap
Dazzlingly vibrant and brimming with graphic force, Keith Haring’s Untitled from 1986 is a brilliant celebration of Haring’s distinct painterly style. The artist’s instantly recognizable pop iconography of the dancing figures is here rendered in a graphic monochrome palette of black and white acrylic paint, with a thick band of rich red paint encircling the composition. Created in the final years of Haring’s tragically short life, Untitled is a seminal example of the artist’s celebration of music and movement despite the overwhelming challenges of the decade. Across the present work, Haring’s dancing figures are carefully placed such that none overlaps with another, the precise organization yet chaotic contortion of their bodies lending the composition a kinetic clarity that bursts with the effusive spirit so resolutely associated with Haring’s work.
In its astonishingly assured compositional structure and astounding candor, Untitled stands as s a work of immense significance within Haring’s oeuvre, embodying the dizzying energy and sense of possibility that existed within the New York cultural scene for a brief but heady period in the 1980s. Ultimately, the present work superbly encapsulates the sensation that Haring declared he was striving for within his art when he stated, “When I paint, it is an experience that, at its best, is transcending reality.” (Keith Haring, quoted in: David Sheff, “Keith Haring: Just Say Know,” Rolling Stone, August 1989) In its creation of a powerfully distinctive dreamscape, Untitled not only transcends reality, but exceeds it.
#4. Silence = Death (1988)
Christie’s New-York, 15 May 2019
Silence = Death, 1988
Acrylic on canvas
108 x 120 inches (274.3 x 304.8 cm)
Signed, titled and dated ‘SILENCE = DEATH ©K. Haring SEPT. 11 – 88’ (on the overlap)
Depicted on a shocking pink canvas in the shape of an inverted triangle, Silence = Death is packed with a writhing mass of Haring’s signature figures. Their fingerless hands cover the areas on their faces where eyes or ears would exist in a manner similar to the three wise monkeys who ‘see no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil.’ Rendered in even silver strokes, the rowdy mass tumbles down the canvas but is hemmed in by a silver border that keeps them from approaching the edge of the stretcher. The sheer chaos of the scene is in line with the feeling of the time, and is only tamed and controlled by Haring’s precision and attention to color and detail. Jeffrey Deitch, speaking about the artist’s work, noted, “[Keith Haring’s] images are insightfully chosen and carefully worked out with a sensitivity toward layers of meaning and sexual connotation. They are not just drawings but ‘signs.’ But these rings of meaning around the individual figures are only part of the Haring process. The work’s full impact results from a mélange of all these elements: context, medium, imagery; and their infiltration into the urban consciousnesses. […] They diagram the collective unconscious of a city—a city that moves along happily enough, but just barely enough to keep from degenerating into the dog-eat-dog, topsy turvy world of Haring’s images” (J. Deitch, Keith Haring, New York, 2008, p. 220-221). The triangle and its silver denizens are attractive visually, but this attraction serves to further hold the viewer’s attention and make them come to grips with the solemnity of the subject matter.
Silence = Death is one of two triangular canvases that Haring completed in the fall of 1988. The other is a work titled Pile of Crowns (1988) which the artist created in memoriam of his friend and colleague, the painter Jean-Michel Basquiat. Basquiat had risen to fame as a street artist turned gallery sensation in much the same way as Haring, and the two had worked together during the 1970s and 80s in the electrified art scene of New York City. Both had strong ties to Andy Warhol and his milieu, and each embraced the crossover between their graffiti roots and Warhol’s Pop sensationalism. Silence = Death and Pile of Crowns were finished roughly one month after Basquiat’s untimely death, and both show Haring’s innate ability to use his signature cartoony style to tackle serious topics. The latter addresses a prodigious talent and close friend lost to drugs, while Silence = Death deals with the AIDS epidemic and its devastating effects on the arts community.
#5. The Last Rainforest (1989)
Sotheby’s London, 28 June 2016
The Last Rainforest, 1989
Acrylic and enamel on canvas
71 3/4 x 95 1/2 inches (182.2 x 242.6 cm)
Considered Haring’s last great masterpiece, The Last Rainforest more than doubled its low estimate when it sold at Sotheby’s in London in June 2016, the second-highest lot of the night. The work came from the collection of famed photographer David LaChapelle, who “fell in love with the painting” when he saw it in 2001. More than any other work by Haring, there is “a sense of his time running out, and he really wanted to say something… There is an urgency,” the collector reflected. Haring would pass away just four months after completing this monumental piece.
#6. Untitled (1984)
Christie’s London, 4 October 2018