Keith Haring : Art is for Everybody, at the AGO Toronto

I saw the Keith Haring show at the AGO recently, with my friend Julie.

This is the only Canadian stop for this touring exhibition. It is on until March 17, 2024. Details can be found on their site, here. It’s so good.

He began as a graffiti artist, decorating the street of New York City in the ’80s, at the same time as Jean-Michel Basquiat was doing the same. With their paintings seen in plain view around the city, I can only imagine how good NYC must have looked in those days. Certainly, street art is not to everyone’s liking, but, from a personal perspective, as someone who chooses to walk in Toronto’s graffitied laneways rather than take the main streets, I know I would have loved it. (Aside: You can see some of our street art in this post and this this one, if you’d like.)

Both young artists were remarkably talented and moved on to having gallery shows, which would have been self-organized with their friends, at small places, where I imagine you entered through mysterious darkened doorways. The crowd admiring the work must have been a people watcher’s dream come true. In my mind’s eye, Robert Mapplethorpe would have been there, along with his good friend Patti Smith, who had temporarily taken a break from touring for most of the 80s and was back on her early stomping grounds. Oh, and Madonna and Andy Warhol would have been there, too. If only to have a time machine.

The AGO does such a wonderful job at deciding how to hang and show the art they display. For example, part of this exhibition was set up as a replication of one of the small Soho galleries that Haring showed in in 1982. For the original show, the artist and his co-creator at the time, Angel Ortiz, had transformed the room with day-glo paint and ultraviolet lights, to better showcase the artwork which was also created with day-glo paint. The AGO added a sound track of songs found on Haring’s personal collection of mixed tapes.

In another room, they had an original leather suit worn on-stage by Madonna, which had been painted by her friend Keith. Scanning a QR code on the wall nearby allows visitors to see footage of that concert on their phones, while also looking at the actual clothing she was wearing while performing.

Toward the end of the circuit is a poignant reminder that growing old is a gift.

Sadly, Haring passed from complications of AIDS, in February, 1990, at the young age of 31. This was only a year and a half after Basquiat had died of a drug overdose at 27.

The gallery has hung a work called “Unfinished Painting, 1989”, along with a quote expressing how Keith Haring felt about his fate, where so much art would go uncreated. Today, the artist would have been 65 years old.

Julie and I were at the gallery not too long ago, when we saw a bunch of other good art, some temporary and some permanent. I wrote about that visit here. But, we wanted to save the Haring show for its own trip. There is so much to see there all the time, so if you live in the city, you might want to split up your visits like we did. An annual pass, that is good for a whole year of unlimited entry to the gallery (and is only $5 more than a one day pass), is a good way to go. Also, if you’re younger than 26, admission is free, as it is for all Indigenous Peoples.

Thank you for reading.

I hope you go

to the AGO

to see this show.

xo Loulou