‘Keith Haring: Radiant Vision’ has West Coast debut in Long Beach

“Keith Haring: Radiant Vision,” which spotlights the iconic art figure and his signature pop-graffiti style, has its West Coast debut in Long Beach.

The two-floor exhibition features more than 130 rarely seen and notable works from a seldom-seen private collection. The pieces include rare New York subway drawings, street art, complete suites of many of his icon print series, and commercial work, many of them are powerful examples of how Keith Haring, who identified as gay, used his art as a platform for social change.

Many pieces also are in Haring’s signature pop-graffiti style, which uses kinetic line drawings and recurring lighthearted comic-style characters that combine optimism with an urgent socio-political message, such as HIV/AIDS awareness.

“Keith Haring: Radiant Vision” spans Haring’s short but momentous career, from 1978 to 1990 when he died at the age of 31.

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The exhibit opens at the Long Beach Museum of Art today and runs through Aug. 25. The traveling exhibit previously visited New York, Florida, Pennsylvania, and Italy.

Ron Nelson, the museum’s executive director, says Haring’s work is “still very relevant and very powerful.”

“Keith Haring: Radiant Vision” follows last year’s Haring exhibit, “Keith Haring: Art Is for Everybody,” at The Broad, which was the first Los Angeles museum exhibit of Haring’s work.

Haring believed that art should be accessible to everyone, a belief that was frowned upon when Haring started in 1978.

Artist Kenny Scharf met Haring in 1978 and formed a New York art community that also included Andy Warhol and Jean-Michel Basquiat.

“The kind of culture that Keith was embracing, no one was doing that back then—opening his Pop Shop (a New York boutique selling affordable merchandise), and the idea that art was for everyone,” Scharf told The Art Newspaper last year. “We took a lot of flak for wanting to really express that attitude because a lot of people back then, and still (today), think that art for everyone meant art dumbed down.”

Haring was one of the most accomplished and prominent American artist of the 1980s. Born in Kutztown, Penn., Haring developed an early love for drawing. His father, an amateur cartoonist, taught Keith to draw his own characters — inspired by Disney and Dr. Seuss.

In 1978, Haring arrived in New York and attended the School of Visual Arts where he befriended Scharf and Basquiat. The three of them immersed themselves in the underground art scene, their large-scale paintings taking inspiration from the colorful graffiti art, music, dance, and counterculture that surrounded them.

In the summer of 1980, Haring left the School of Visual Art and began making street art. His satirical posters and enigmatic subway drawings garnered him rapid notoriety amongst the public, the police, and, most notably, the art establishment.

Haring developed a style that was instantly recognizable. Bold lines, pictographic symbols, and bright colors abound in each of his works.

Haring boldly promoted his brand through commercial partnerships, mass-market products, and his own storefront.

Haring took advantage of his new-found influence and spent much of the mid-1980s making public art, including commemorative murals, charitable commissions, and humanitarian poster campaigns.

Equally important was Haring’s social justice activism, which involved raising awareness of AIDS, racism, and child welfare.

About the author

Phillip Zonkel

Award-winning journalist Phillip Zonkel spent 17 years at Long Beach's Press-Telegram, where he was the first reporter in the paper's history to have a beat covering the city's vibrant LGBTQ. He also created and ran the popular and innovative LGBTQ news blog, Out in the 562.

He won two awards and received a nomination for his reporting on the local LGBTQ community, including a two-part investigation that exposed anti-gay bullying of local high school students and the school districts' failure to implement state mandated protections for LGBTQ students.

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