Keith Haring at the Brooklyn Museum of Art

The late Keith Haring’s iconic depictions of “radiant babies,” and stick figures in motion have become some of the most recognized images of the 20th century and because of this Haring has understandably, lost some of his edge. Haring’s effervescent illustrations have always scaled the fence between safe subject matter and the more controversial: frank depictions of homosexual sex acts and the penis, which are virtually unknown to the public at large. As a member of the pop art movement Haring has been criticized for being too low -brow and simplistic but his influence on current street artists turned art world tastemakers is undeniable. Artists such as Invader, Banksy, and Barry McGee can thank Haring for paving the way for street artists now exhibiting on the walls of some of the world’s most famous galleries.

In Keith Haring: 1978-1982 now on display at the Brooklyn Museum of Art, the first large-scale exhibition to explore the start of Keith Haring’s career takes us back in time to a New York where Madonna worked coat check and Haring and his friends put on live performances painting to music. Haring’s early days as an undergraduate student at New York’s School of Visual Arts to his nights spent dancing to New Wave at the Mudd Club and Club 57 are all documented here through various mediums. The looping videos of art films made and sometimes starring Haring, flyers drawn for art shows curated by the artist, and early journals all display how he attempted to work out his personal language. Haring’s tight lines, repetitive imagery, exploration of negative space, and over-simplication of images are all now considered trademarks.

The exhibition gives Haring novices and die-hards the chance to discover a side of Haring often obscured by his hefty pop culture status. Many pieces are on public view for the first time including twenty-five red gouache paintings, and large scale sumi ink paintings. Other more recognizable works include Kenny Scharf‘s polaroid series of Haring portraits, and friend and artist Tseng Kwong Chi‘s videos documenting Haring’s chalk art in the NYC subway during the 1980s. The solid retrospective proves that the artist hasn’t lost his edge, rather it’s been hiding in plain view all along.

Keith Haring: 1978-1982 is on display at the Brooklyn Museum until July 8th 2012.

Photos By: Counter Commons

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