Entrepreneur Michael Rosen was having a cup of coffee at Panther Coffee in Wynwood in February when two hipsters wearing Keith Haring-designed T-shirts walked in. Rosen, who co-founded last year’s Salvador Dali exhibit and this weekend’s Haring retrospective at the Design District’s Moore Building, approached the two. He asked if they intended to attend the Haring show.
“Who is Keith Haring?,” one replied.
Rosen says the average person has to see Haring’s work to recognize it. His work is undoubtedly iconic; the bold and expressive silhouettes that characterize his art have been a pop-culture fixture since the 1980s. But few connect the imagery to the artist, and even fewer realize the legacy he left behind.
When Haring Miami producers Rosen and Manny Hernandez were looking for a show to follow the wildly successful Dali Miami show — which had more than 30,000 attendees last year — they turned to Haring.
“It’s a different audience and it’s a different approach that we’re trying to do,” Hernandez says. “Dali was a household name. You know who Dali is, you know who Picasso is.”
The four-day Haring Miami exhibition, which concludes Sunday at the Moore Building in the Design District, features more than 200 works by the artist — many of them rarely if ever seen by the public. The success of Dali Miami gave the founders a positive reputation in the arts community across the country, allowing them greater access to private collections featuring significant Haring works.
Haring came to prominence through graffiti art in the streets of New York City in the ’80s, capturing the public’s attention without the backing of art institutions and quickly rising to fame. By the late 1980s, his work was everywhere, not only in the streets but also lining the walls of museums like the Whitney, featured on MTV, and printed on merchandise sold at his Pop Shop. His career, which lasted only a decade, was cut short when he died of AIDS-related complications in 1990 at age 31. He is known for giving street art a sense of legitimacy with the general public and inspiring countless street and pop artists.
Reed V. Horth, creative director of Haring Miami, says he hopes attendees this year become more familiar with the artist and his significance.
“The reason why we choose an artist like this is because he inspired so many artists we are collecting today, and this is a good way for us to inspire another generation who may not be familiar with him.”
Haring’s role in popularizing street art is particularly significant to Miami, one of the street art capitals of the United States. Given street art’s role in the arts scene here, bringing Haring’s work to the city seemed like a no-brainer to the Haring Miami team.
“I think Haring being one of the godfathers of street art and what’s happening now in Miami with the art scene really played into [our decision],” Rosen says.
Visitors will be surprised by the breadth of his work — which graced everything from canvas, tarps and furniture to even streetlights — as well as the scale of some of his works. Among the works will be prominent examples of his “radiant baby” tag, or the signature that would identify his works.
The Haring Miami exhibition will also highlight Haring’s contributions to important causes. The artist often created works to help raise awareness for pressing issues such as HIV/AIDS and drug abuse. After being diagnosed with AIDS, he would establish the Keith Haring Foundation to support the fight against the disease, as well as provide assistance to charities benefiting children. In support of these causes, Haring Miami will donate a portion of the proceeds to support the HIV/AIDS awareness and treatment organization Care Resources, and Best Buddies International, a charity supporting children and adults with intellectual and developmental disabilities.
Anthony Shriver, founder and chairman of Best Buddies International, says he hopes people attending Haring Miami will be inspired by his charitable contributions as much as his art.
“Hopefully that will be part of his legacy, not only his art but his character, his soul, his compassion and understanding that people in this country have something they all need and we have a responsibility to do something about it,” Shriver said.