Skarstedt announces an exhibition of work by American artist Keith Haring, at their Chelsea gallery this March. The exhibition will uniquely present 5 major works on canvas, all at a monumental scale and dating from 1984-1985, exposing a lesser-known side to the iconic artist. Keith Haring: Heaven and Hell will be on view at Skarstedt (550 W. 21st Street) from March 5 through April 18, 2015.
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The exhibition’s title, Heaven and Hell, recalls William Blake’s 18th century poem The Marriage of Heaven and Hell—a study in opposites of good and evil, angels and devils. As William Blake wrote, “Without contraries is no progression.” Haring similarly examined the duality between two sides of contemporary life in his 1984-1985 paintings. The apparent antagonism and struggle between the figures is one of the key features of Haring’s art.
Haring’s work is replete with paradoxical themes: life and death; religion and sexuality; innocence and experience; heaven and hell; good and evil. Haring often cited two veritable embodiments of such juxtaposition, Dante’s Inferno and Hieronymus Bosch’s The Garden of Earthly Delights, 1503-1504, as two of the most profound influences on his art. Untitled (May 29, 1984) can even be read as a pared down, Pop Art version of Pieter Bruegel the Elder’s detailed canvases, drawing comparisons to The Fight Between Carnival and Lent, 1559. David Galloway wrote, "The key to Haring's work is not to be found in ‘chapters’ or in oppositions, but precisely in the mingling, the marriage of innocence and experience, good and evil, heaven, and hell." Haring’s deep black lines do more to complicate this dichotomy than demarcate.
Best known for his cartoonish shapes and oversized red hearts, his more aggressive and at times provocative and sexually explicit imagery is often under-recognized. Incorporating seemingly childlike or naïve shapes, Haring’s art is more than just dancing figures, with much of his work exploring deeper societal issues and demonstrating a remarkable grasp of the ambiguities of his generation.
Haring’s work strikes a delicate balance between heavy and light, playful and serious—a balance intrinsic not only to his art, but to his life. Creating visual puzzles of iconography from the mythological to the mundane, Haring’s oeuvre draws on the influence of street art, with a visual language including his own alphabet of symbols and shapes.
With a strong background in social activism, Haring’s canvases respond to the street culture so integral to his artistic development, while making political statements still poignant to this day. Thirty years after these works were created, Haring’s paintings seem to anticipate the future with a prescient relevance to today’s society.