Home Magazine Well Beyond Lines. Keith Haring meets Jean-Michel Basquiat!

The National Gallery of Victoria, in the vibrant city of Melbourne, Australia, proudly presents "Keith Haring | Jean-Michel Basquiat Crossing Lines", a world premiere exhibition devoted to two of the most popular artists of the twentieth century. A different perspective on Haring and Basquiat’s lives, lexicons and interconnections from another side of the globe, but not too far from their home country. 

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Without precedent and with a unique point of view, Crossing Lines - through more than 200 artworks, including those created in public spaces, painting, sculpture, objects, works on paper, photographs - takes the audience on a journey into the radical and unorthodox vision of Keith Haring (1958-1990), the king of street art, and Jean-Michel Basquiat (1960-1988), the “Radiant Child” of American graffiti. Both died prematurely, they crossed this galaxy leaving an indelible mark on the society, introducing the habit of sharp verbal language (signs, symbols and words) embedded into visual output. And they transform the approach to the Art World in parallel, meeting and dialoguing until the end. With the paint A Pile of Crowns for Jean-Michel Basquiat (1988), Haring paid a final tribute to his friend - dead at the age of 27 for a drug mix - with a dense pyramid theme. A symbol connected to an unknown force that compose Basquiat’s head motif, the crown, ready to guide him in the dimension of universal acclamation.


Keith Haring, A Pile of Crowns for Jean-Michel Basquiat 1988, synthetic polymer paint on canvas
304.8 x 304.8 x 304.8 cm, The Keith Haring Foundation, New York. Keith Haring artwork © Keith Haring Foundation


Keith Haring, Untitled 1982 (the red dog on yellow), synthetic plymer paint on vinyl tarpaulin, 213.5 x 220.0 cm, J W Power Collection,
The university of Sydney, managed by Museum of Contemporary Art, purchased with funds from the J W Power Bequest, 1982
Keith Haring artwork © Keith Haring Foundation


The exhibition presents the artist’s luminous beginning of career, with various collaborative works from the streets and New York city’s subway stations. Haring and Basquiat first met in 1979 at Manhattan’s School for Visual Arts (SVA) and became good “pals”, as much as part of a community of artists. Despite the mutual similarities, theirs distinctive signatures were as clear as day. Haring developed autonomously his vocabulary - with silhouettes of the crawling baby, the human being and the dog inscribed in a circle of thick outline (like a lively aura) - and his idiomatic technique. A fluid and continuous execution, without taking the hand off the paper or the wall - in the manner of Picasso and Spanish calligraphers - while Basquiat’s touch was more free-form, fragmented and shaken, like in the Neo-Expressionist and abstract painting on a discarded door, Pork (1981). The artist, choosing black colours, traces an image of a man who, likely, has been going through hard times as he depicts in 1984 in Self Portrait, reducing himself to nothing but a mask-like of a disruptive and vulnerable “Black Men in a White World” (the terrific refrain of Michael Kiwanuka 2016 soul song). 


Jean-Michel Basquiat, Self Portrait 1984, synthetic polymer paint and oil stick on paper on canvas
98.7 x 71.1 cm. Collection of Yoav Harlap, Israel © Estate of Jean-Michel Basquiat. Licensed by Artestar, New York


As unconventional, impetuous and prolific artists, Haring and Basquiat used multiple surfaces - from found objects to any material support they encountered - and by the early 1980s, they had both found artistic recognition and had been included in pivotal exhibitions such as the legendary “New York/New Wave” (1981) at MoMA PS1. The red dog on yellow by Haring (Untitled, 1982) is glorious and fully shaped, carrying a bright and energetic message for humanity. Basquiat’s Versus Medici (1982), a savage warrior perhaps a tormented saint, is instead brutal but dynamic and with great layers of complexity. Crossing Lines exhibition has literally the merit of going beyond the established route, combining the two artists in unusual and permeable categories: Performance and Dance, Notebooks, Friends and Objects, Copy and Paste and Black Light. Haring and Basquiat - in the proximity of Andy Warhol, Madonna and Grace Jones - were both encompassing traditional boundaries between “music, performance, movement, concept, craft and a real record of the event in the form on a painting” (K. Haring Journals). They’d found new levels of expression through performing, designing clothes and music albums, annotating intimate comments on notebooks, manipulating texts and images like the beat generation writer William S. Burroughs, and not least bringing the club culture of Downtown New York into the gallery space. Like fluorescent day-glow paint, this show is immersed in a fluid of free and untamed energy.

Written by Petra Chiodi     

Cover images: Basquiat kisses Haring. © The National Gallery of Victoria


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