Keith Haring’s Personal Collection Stars Fresh-to-Market Works by Basquiat, Warhol, and More
Thirty years after the artist’s death, his foundation is auctioning 140-plus pieces at Sotheby’s to benefit the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual & Transgender Community Center of New York
Few artists left a greater mark on the downtown New York and international contemporary art scenes than Keith Haring. Believing “an artist is a spokesman for a society at any given point in history,” the activist practiced what he preached, particularly through the charitable organization he founded shortly before his death from HIV/AIDS-related causes in 1990. Commemorating his creative and philanthropic legacy 30 years on, the Keith Haring Foundation is offering the artist’s personal collection in a Sotheby’s online auction from September 24 to October 1. Titled Dear Keith, the sale is comprised of more than 140 works coming to auction for the first time—and lots begin at just $100.
“The collection is remarkably autobiographical, just as any great collector’s estate is a window into their individual perspective,” Harrison Tenzer, head of Sotheby’s contemporary art online sales in New York, said in a statement. “We see the progression of Keith’s life captured in these works. . . . Together they illuminate a culturally fertile era in which artists and activists worked closely together to create a world that was more inclusive than the one they were born into.”
In this collaborative spirit, the works in the auction largely represent those gifted to Haring or exchanged between his friends and peers. For example, there are several hand-painted objects and artworks from Kenny Scharf, Haring’s School of Visual Arts roommate, including a watercolor on paper in a hand-painted frame. George Condo, another treasured friend who frequently worked in Haring’s East Village studio, has several early drawings and paintings on offer as well.
“As a proudly out gay man, Haring was very interested in the way artists had pushed the limits of queer visibility in their respective eras”Harrison Tenzer
Haring also collected works by greats who came before him, such as Alberto Giacometti, Pablo Picasso, and Roy Lichtenstein. The sale features two prints by the Pop master, who attended Haring’s first major New York exhibition, including Forms in Space, which was prominently displayed above the fireplace in Haring’s apartment. Another piece that had pride of place in his home was Warhol’s portrait of Haring with his lover DJ Juan DuBose, who passed away due to HIV/AIDS in 1988. With an estimate of $200,000–$250,000, it is the sale’s top lot.
Tenzer tells Galerie that beyond the big-name collaborators with whom Haring is most associated, some of the more surprising finds reflect a fascinating narrative of queer art throughout history: “I am particularly drawn to the two outliers of the group: a print by Jean Cocteau and a selection of photographs by Wilhelm von Gloeden. Just as Haring was a polymath and thoroughly integrated into the New York downtown scene, Jean Cocteau was a fixture of the avant-garde world of early 20th-century Paris, working across artistic mediums and collecting many boyfriends and lovers throughout his life.
“Wilhelm von Gloeden would most certainly have appealed to Haring as he was creating radically erotic queer art in the conservative Victorian and Edwardian eras. Von Gloeden photographed Sicilian youths, often nude and in a homoerotic manner, which appealed to luminaries such as Oscar Wilde, who had to acquire them outside of established commercial channels. As a proudly out gay man, Haring was very interested in the way artists had pushed the limits of queer visibility in their respective eras. In the sale’s e-catalog, I placed these pieces among the erotic queer art of Haring’s peers John Sex and Bruno Schmidt to illustrate the continuum of erotic queer expression.”
The fact that Haring’s collection is being sold with 100 percent of his foundation’s proceeds benefitting the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual & Transgender Community Center of New York makes the sale all the more autobiographical—during the height of the AIDS epidemic, in 1989, Haring painted a large-scale mural for the center’s second-floor men’s bathroom. Originally created to commemorate the 20th anniversary of the Stonewall Riots, Once Upon a Time still stands today as a powerful symbol of sexual liberation.
“It is rare that we as a foundation are able to address so many of the concerns that our founder deeply cared about in a single gift,” Gil Vazquez, acting director of the Keith Haring Foundation, said in a statement about the auction. “The center embodies so much of what Keith was about: community, empowerment, and the support of our future, the youth. We feel confident that this gift during this time for this purpose is the right thing.”
Dear Keith: Works from the Personal Collection of Keith Haring will be on view in Sotheby’s York Avenue galleries from September 26 to 30. Bidding opens on September 24.