With his vibrant, street art-inspired style, Keith Haring is among the most recognisable and influential artists of the 20th century. Having just enjoyed his first solo UK exhibition at Tate Liverpool in 2019, the market for the artist is as strong as ever. Here we take a look at some of Haring’s top results at auction over the years.
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 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.
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 arts 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, became the second most expensive work by Haring in auction history.
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.
Among the top 3 works sold at Christie’s Post War and Contemporary Art Evening Auction in London on 4 October 2018, 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 is a chaotic scene of worshippers, UFOs, robots and monsters. When the painting was 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 said later.
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 falling down the canvas, almost a combination of Pop Art with 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), above.
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.
Haring’s Sister Cities – For Tokyo was created especially 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”.