Untitled (Two Dancing Figures), 1989
Untitled (Figure Balancing on Dog), 1986
17 State Street

This site is included in LMCC’s Creative Insider’s Guide to Lower Manhattan, sponsored by Launch LM.

The embracing linkage and comingling energy of Keith Haring’s Untitled (Two Dancing Figures) (1989) and Untitled (Figure Balancing on Dog) (1986) perfectly embody the spirit of the artist’s populist practice. Haring first gained the widespread attention of the New York art world as well as the general public in the 1980s when –in his early 20s– he began repurposing expired, blank subway advertisement boards as a space for his seemingly ubiquitous chalk on black paper drawings. Haring created these drawings from the years 1980–1985, riding the city subway to make quick, spontaneous renderings of what would become his iconic imagery: radiant babies, barking dogs, and hovering flying saucers, among others. By the time of Haring’s first sculpture exhibition, at Leo Castelli’s famed gallery in 1985, the twenty-seven year old artist was internationally recognized for his signature figuration.

Haring created more than 100 sculptures over the course of his career, ranging from large-scale public works to smaller-sized maquettes. Haring also stretched his unique drawing and painting practice into the sculptural realm through objet trouvés (found objects) –from baby cribs to replicas of Grecian vases and statues– that he ornamented with his distinct scrawl. When Haring painted the bodies of performers Grace Jones and Bill T. Jones, their figures took on a sculptural quality as well.

Untitled (Two Dancing Figures) and Untitled (Figure Balancing on Dog) both exemplify the central role of dance and movement for Haring’s iconography and practice. Haring described his desire for his sculptures to have the “atmosphere of a wild playground,” and the ebullient exuberance of these two works captures this nod* to celebration. The sculptures are made from aluminum and painted vibrant primary red and yellow; the colors and finish of which Haring hoped would evoke childhood toys. Haring created many of his large-scale sculptures at Lippincott Foundry in North Haven, Connecticut, and Untitled (Two Dancing Figures) is in the collection of the Lever House.

Haring spoke directly to the medium-specificity of sculpture and its physical presence, noting:  “A painting, to a degree, is still an illusion of a material. But once you cut this thing out of steel and put it up, it is a real thing, I mean it could kill you. If it falls, it will kill you. It has a kind of power that a painting doesn’t have… It would survive a nuclear blast, probably. It has this permanent, real feeling that will exist much, much, much longer than I will ever exist, so it’s a kind of immortality… All of the things that you make are a kind of quest for immortality.”**

Haring’s all-too-short career ended when the artist passed away from AIDS-related complications in 1990 at the age of 31. Yet he left a significant body of large-scale sculpture over the course of his five-year engagement with public space that continues to inspire. As a seminal figure in the public art practice of New York City during the 1980s, it is particularly fitting that Haring’s Untitled (Two Dancing Figures) and Untitled (Figure Balancing on Dog) remain prominently on view in the heart of Lower Manhattan.

– Alex Fialho

 

*John Gruen, Keith Haring: The Authorized Biography, Prentice Hall Press, New York, 1991, p. 133.
 **Daniel Drenger, “Art and Life: An Interview with Keith Haring,” Columbia Art Review (Spring 1988), p. 49.

 

Photo Credits (in order of appearance):
Untitled (Two Dancing Figures), 1989 (both images)
Photo Credit: Jesse David Harris
© Keith Haring Foundation. Used by permission.
Untitled (Figure Balancing on Dog), 1986
Photo Credit: Jesse David Harris
© Keith Haring Foundation. Used by permission.