Toni Clayton, American Pop & Modern Specialist
Interested in buying or selling
When artworks by the late Keith Haring go under the hammer, they make record prices, as seen in 2017, when Untitled (1982) became his most expensive artwork ever sold.
Now, following a major UK retrospective of Haring’s work at Tate Liverpool in 2019, the market for the artist is as strong as ever, with both paintings and Keith Haring prints proving consistently popular at auction.
Here we look at Haring's most expensive works:
On 18 May 2017, Untitled soared past its US$6million high estimate in Sotheby’s Contemporary Art Evening Auction in New York, setting a new world auction record for the artist. The work presents the ultimate combination of Haring’s best-known motifs – street art aesthetic, cartoon figures, dogs and a overriding political message. Inspired by the conflicts between of governmental authority and youth culture, the work presents the battle of good versus evil and life versus death – subjects that were close to Haring’s heart and inspired him throughout his career.
Responding to the heyday of the New York Hip Hop scene, which Haring loved, it seems fitting that this painting's provenance traces a life that seems to have lived wholly in New York, from its conception by Haring in 1982 up to its sale at Christie's in New York in late 2022. The work, executed in enamel and DayGlo on metal sold for $5,820,000.
Painted in 1988, the year Haring was diagnosed with AIDS, Silence = Death is now one of the artist’s most iconic works. Here, the pink triangle – a symbol of gay pride – is used to raise awareness of the epidemic tearing apart New York’s queer and artistic community. “I don’t know if I have five months or five years, but I know my days are numbered. This is why my activities and projects are so important now,” Haring said in 1987 about his activism. When the work sold at Christie’s in New York on 15 May 2019, it became the second most expensive work by Haring in auction history.
Untitled presents a showdown between man, nature and technology. A computer is held on top of a pyramid, like a deity on a temple altar – around it a chaotic scene of worshippers, UFOs, robots and monsters crowd the composition.
It seems fitting therefore that this work is the very first tangible work of art to be sold at a major auction house with the option of payment via cryptocurrency. The work sold at Christie’s on the 30th June 2021 for £4,301,250, and aside from the hype surrounding the sale, the work is also one of Haring’s most beloved paintings - epitomising his inimitable illustrative style.
Indeed, when this work was originally unveiled at Paul Maenz’s gallery in Cologne in 1984 – Haring’s first solo exhibition in Germany – Maenz himself was so enchanted that he bought it for his own collection. “To me, Keith’s work is magic,” the gallerist later said.
Considered Haring’s last great masterpiece, The Last Rainforest more than doubled its low estimate when it sold at Sotheby’s in London on 28 June 2016 – the second-highest lot of the night.
The work came from the collection of famed photographer David LaChapelle, who “fell in love with the painting” when he saw it in 2001. More than any other work by Haring, there is “a sense of his time running out, and he really wanted to say something… There is an urgency,” the collector reflected. Haring would pass away just four months after completing this monumental piece.
One of the most charismatic and instantly recognisable artists to come out of the 1980s New York art scene, Haring is known for his activism during the AIDs crisis as well as his utterly unique, illustrative style. Untitled (Acrobats) sold for £4,148,369 at Sotheby’s on the 8th December 2021, and is no exception to Haring’s oeuvre with its almost-overwhelming business. Contorted figures, symbols and hieroglyphic style motifs cover this large, monochrome painting - drawing our eye and grasping on with its kinetic intensity.
Speaking of his painting process, Haring described being driven by “The idea of making the movements a kind of choreography - a kind of dance,” and his Untitled (1986) is a poignant example of his ability to capture this sense of movement that he has become so well known for. The figures here seem to vibrate with energy, with their perfect tessellation ensuring the overall work is bustling but not overwhelming. It sold at Sotheby’s New York for £4,111,178 on the 12th May 2021.
Although all of Haring’s paintings were deeply personal, he seldom created self-portraits. This rare work was a gift to his friend and art dealer, Tony Shafrazi, who helped to establish Haring’s commercial success on the New York art scene. The self-portrait’s use of Ben Day dots could be a homage to Roy Lichtenstein, while the close framing of his face references the portraits of Andy Warhol – both older Pop Artists were friends of Haring’s. The work sold at Sotheby’s in New York on 17 November 2016 for almost double its low estimate.
Featuring a figure with an ankh cross, the Egyptian hieroglyphic for ‘life’ that is often associated with fertility, on their centre, this original painting bears a connection to Haring's Fertility Suite. Painted on a 3-metre squared tarpaulin, the same year as the artist was producing the print portfolio, it is a scaled-up proof of the enormity of his concern about the high prevalence of HIV infection among pregnant women in Sub-Saharan Africa at that time. As a vital example of Haring's career-long investment in humanitarian activism, then, it is no wonder that this painting realised a final price of USD$4,212,500 at auction with Christie's in 2017.
Haring’s Sister Cities – For Tokyo was created to mark the 25th anniversary of New York City and Tokyo’s sister-city friendship in 1985. The artist first visited Tokyo in 1983 and would return to the Japanese capital numerous times in the 1980s. Here, the artist imagines the two cities as his iconic dancing figures, joined together under one heart. Haring gifted the painting to Tokyo City Hall after it was completed – three decades and three new owners later, it was offered at Sotheby’s in New York on 14 November 2018.
The star lot of Bonham’s Post-War & Contemporary Art auction on 15 May 2019, Untitled sold for over eight times more than the second-highest artwork. The painting, created in 1983, was unveiled alongside the 1984 Venice Biennale and first acquired by Salvatore Ala, a famed Italian gallerist and supporter of Haring’s work. Untitled was later kept hidden in the same private collection for over a decade before it made its auction debut at Bonham’s.
One of the top lots of Phillips’ 20th Century & Contemporary Art Evening Sale in London on 13 February 2020, Untitled had been held in the same private collection since 1982, the year after it was created. A tour-de-force early work in the artist’s career, the piece portrays a dreamlike moment of two figures in mid-movement. “When I paint, it is an experience that, at its best, is transcending reality,’ Haring once said about his practice. “When it is working, you completely go into another place… completely beyond your ego and your own self. That’s what it’s all about”.
At the centre of this apocalyptic, dystopian vision is a headless figure writhing among mythical humans and monsters. Since 1984, Haring had been doing “really detailed, almost surreal, scary monster paintings that had all these weird configurations,” the artist himself acknowledged. “They were combinations of science fiction and this strange nuclear aftermath”.
The work sold for over double its low estimate when it was offered at Sotheby’s in New York on 14 May 2014.
At almost 16 feet wide, Untitled (Dancing Dogs) is a gigantic depiction of one of Haring’s most iconic motifs – the barking dog. Painted in 1981, the work is one of his earliest canvases to depict this theme. Untitled (Dancing Dogs) stands out for its rapid brushstrokes and dripping paint that falls down the canvas, almost a combination of Pop Art and Abstract Expressionism. The work was also offered at Sotheby’s in New York on 14 May 2014, the same auction as Untitled (September 14, 1986).