Feb 14, 2024

Five murals Keith Haring painted around the world

From Paris to Tokyo, see the iconic street art by pop icon Keith Haring

An outdoor mural saying Crack Is Wack by Keith Haring

Photos: Keith Haring Foundation Archives

Early in Keith Haring’s art practice, street art and graffiti found a place in his heart. When he moved to New York City in 1978 to attend the School of Visual Arts, hip hop, street art and active night club scene emerged. There, he was able to embrace his homosexuality and become part of the thriving Lower East Side art community.  Haring saw lots of graffiti on the streets and subways of New York City. Fascinated by the forms and line work achieved with spray paint, he strived to create his distinctive line and began exploring the public sphere – spontaneously and often illegally. Developing his own style, he drew shapes and lines with intense speed. He took his art to the streets, creating chalk drawings in subway stations and painting murals for the public to see and admire.  

While developing his own unique drawing style, Haring moved from working on the streets to creating work on various mediums such as vases, metal panels and vinyl tarpaulins. His career took off in 1982 following his first major exhibition, in collaboration with graffiti artist LA II (Angel Ortiz), at the Tony Shafrazi Gallery on Mercer Street in Soho. The exhibition opened a few months after Haring painted an iconic mural at the corner of Houston Street and Bowery, just blocks from the gallery. Four years after Haring arrived in New York, the city was filled with his figures, which he repeated in paintings, subway drawings, public murals, posters, and buttons. Beyond the streets of New York City, his art also appeared in other cities overseas as he began to travel around doing what he loved to do.   

Fast forward over 40 years, and the AGO has Keith Haring: Art is for Everybody on view – a major retrospective that features more than 200 artworks and ephemera, including large-scale paintings on tarpaulin and canvas, sculptures, works on paper, videos, archival materials, and reproductions of his famed subway drawings. The name of the exhibition summarizes Haring’s approach to art and life – he wanted his art to be accessible beyond gallery walls.  It was important for him to take his art right to the people, whether it be the streets, the subway or a dance club. He said, “I am interested in making art to be experienced and explored by as many individuals as possible, with as many different individual ideas about the given piece with no final meaning attached.” In 1986, Haring opened the Pop Shop, which served as an extension of his public art. Here, Haring designed and sold merchandise such as t-shirts, buttons, inflatable babies, condom cases, and much more -- some of which are on view in the exhibition.  

Within the Pop Shop itself, Haring painted a black and white mural all over the walls and the ceiling. The original Pop Shop ceiling painted by Haring is preserved and remains on view at the New York Historical Society, installed right above at the admissions desk.  

New-York Historical Society - Pop Shop Ceiling.

New-York Historical Society - Pop Shop Ceiling. Photo credit: Jon Wallen

Public murals, such as the one in the Pop Shop, marked much of Haring’s efforts to make his art accessible. In honour of his global influence and his belief that “art is for everybody,” here are five different public murals Haring painted worldwide, some of which still stand today for everyone to see. Some snapshots are on view at the AGO on a digital screen in GG Hall on Level 1, just past the ticketing scanning kiosk on your left.  

  1. 2nd Avenue and 128th Street, New York City, United States  (header image) 

Located at 2nd Avenue and 128th Street, New York, NY, Crack Is Wack is a giant orange mural created in 1986 by Haring. It was inspired by the consequences of the crack epidemic in New York City and served as a warning and symbol of anti-drug activism. Created independently without the city’s permission, the mural was immediately put under the protection and jurisdiction of the City Department of Parks. It still exists today.  

  1. Necker Children Hospital, Paris, France 

A column at Necker Children Hospital with artwork on it by Keith Haring

Photos: Keith Haring Foundation Archives

Created in 1987, this 88.5 ft tall Paris Mural is on the exterior stairwell of the Necker Children Hospital in Paris. “It’s sort of a compound of old and new buildings and, right in the center of it, stands this very modern building with a glass facade and an exposed stairwell running along the side of the building. It’s the perfect place to paint!” – Keith Haring, The Authorized Biography. 

  1. Collingwood Technical School, Melbourne, Australia  

An outdoor mural by Keith Haring at Collingwood Technical School

Photos: Keith Haring Foundation Archives

In Melbourne, Australia, Haring painted an outdoor mural over the course of five days in 1984 at Collingwood Technical College. Overlooking Johnston St, the mural sparked involvement from the school with some staff and students assisting him. Restored in 2013, it still stands today thanks to the conservation project led by renowned Italian conservator Antonio Rava. 

  1. Berlin Wall, Berlin, Germany  

A portion of Berlin Wall painted with artwork by Keith Haring

Photos: Keith Haring Foundation Archives

At the request of the Checkpoint Charlie Museum, Haring painted this 300-meter-long mural in 1986 on the Berlin wall. Depicting linked figures in the colours of the German flag (yellow, red and black), the drawings symbolize the quest for unity between the Federal Republic of Germany West and the German Democratic Republic East. Over time, the mural was covered by other artists' work until the wall's destruction in 1991.  

  1. Tama, Tokyo, Japan  

Several outdoor panels at Tama, Japan painted by Keith Haring

Photos: Keith Haring Foundation Archives

A collaborative project, Haring painted this mural in Tama City, Japan with 500 children from the local community in 1987. He held a workshop with children between the ages of six and eight that helped commemorate the opening of the Tama City Combined Cultural Center (Parthenon Tama) – a building constructed as a palace of art in Tama New Town. Haring painted his iconic human figures on six panels as a base and had children draw their own creations on top.  

To view a whole list of Haring murals around the world, click here.  

Keith Haring: Art is for Everybody is on view now until March 17, 2024, on Level 4 of the AGO.  The exhibition is organized by The Broad, Los Angeles and curated by Sarah Loyer, Curator and Exhibitions Manager, The Broad. The AGO's presentation is curated by Georgiana Uhlyarik, AGO's Fredrik S. Eaton Curator of Canadian Art.  


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