Our collective imagination is peppered with Keith Haring’s universe. Every day, we look around and his designs adorn any kind of objects: clothes, shoes, hats, skateboards — even litter boxes for dogs. Even if his work is now so pervasive that sometimes it loses its power, the highly-marketed artist made his mark as an activist and fought for many causes of his time.
A new exhibition at the Royal Villa of Monza traces back Haring’s career with more than one hundred never-before-seen works from an American private collection. Titled “Radiant Vision,” this newly inaugurated show explores Haring’s activism legacy and celebrates his constant effort to raise awareness of the AIDS crisis, LGBTQ+ rights, and social justice.
“Haring is the father of the activists, and he is the first artist who talks about social themes in a popular context in such a strong way,” said Angelo Crespi, who co-curated the exhibition. “His art is useful to the community and essential to raise awareness, also through advertising, about social issues.”
The exhibition itinerary is divided into nine sections starting with Haring’s iconography made of his famous pictographs of dogs, radiant babies, smiley faces and dancers, a galaxy of hieroglyphics because Haring understands that visual elements speak a universal language.
Haring’s vision and unique language made his art a tool to raise awareness about AIDS as the spectre of the disease descended on New York City and the world. He called the HIV virus the “monster” that killed his closest friends and immediately joined the activist group “Act Up” to help to create promotional material. He designed posters and small gadgets, and originated new and now-iconic statements like “Ignorance=Fear, Silence=Death.”
Keith Haring often collaborated with children and was enthusiastic about working with them precisely because he saw the younger generation as the engine of the future and he hope that they would make the world better. A clear example is the “Kalish Suite,” a group of eleven prints created by Haring in collaboration with an 11-year-old boy named Sean Kalish who frequented the Pop Shop, a store opened by Haring in New York City in 1986. Kalish showed an early talent for dynamic and linear drawings and together they created wild and surrealist images during several studio visits, passing each work back and forth until it was jointly considered finished.
In the digital age, Haring’s art is more alive than ever and plays a huge part in people’s hearts and minds. Haring is considered one of the most relevant and groundbreaking American artists of the 1980s, and although his brief career, he rewrote the rules of art in the American subculture.
“Keith Haring. Radiant Vision” is on view until January 29, 2023 at the Reggia di Monza, Orangerie (Tickets form €10; reggiadimonza.it; +39 039 39464.1)