Artists, friends, rivals, legends –their careers ran on parallel tracks in the lower Manhattan of the 70s and 80s, developing their respective iconic imageries, such as Haring’s Barking Dog and Basquiat’s symbol-ridden street language. Following their shared artistic calling against the oppressive biases and rapid commodification of their time, they paved their way from the subway cars and urban canvases of New York all the way to the biggest museums, collections and galleries. After their early deaths at the height of their careers (for Basquiat an overdose, for Haring HIV/Aids), they made it onto the pages of art history books as two of the most significant artists of the 20th century. And yet, these two pioneering figures have never yet been shown side-by-side in any prominent museum – until today.

Keith Haring, Jean-Michel Basquiat: Crossing Lines opened at the National Gallery of Victoria (NVG) in Melbourne on the 1st of December featuring over 300 works with highlights including an untitled tarpaulin painting by Haring with angels, and an atomic mushroom, and Basquiat’s masterpiece, ‘Untitled’(1982). Since its major Andy Warhol & Ai Wei Wei exhibition in 2015-16, the NVG has pursued the format of exhibitions with two highly established artists, which is why the Melbourne-based institution seemed an ideal host for the groundbreaking show.

Crossing Lines’ is curated by Austrian art historian and acknowledged Haring and Basquiat scholar, Dieter Buchhart, who has nurtured a fascination for this tumultuous, romanticized period in American Art ever since a classmate of his returned home from New York with a few Haring drawings in the 80s, saying the artist had simply given them to him upon a chance encounter.

“I had this idea for a long while, because Haring and Basquiat were dear friends [but] they were also rivals, and that meant that they tried to get better [by competing with each other].”, explains Buchhart. The exhibition aims to explore overlaps and contrasts between the two robust artistic legacies, including aspects of professional rivalry but also mutual admiration. Haring was undeniably a “huge fan” of Basquiat, and even had the painting ‘Defacement (The Death of Michael Stewart)’ from 1983 by the artist in his bedroom, according to former friend and president of the Keith Haring Foundation, Gil Vazquez. Located in Haring’s former Manhattan studio, the foundation is lending 30-40 works to the NVG’s exhibition. It possesses an extensive archive of Haring’s various letters, notes, catalogues and photographs, as well as files on artists and people he admired, such as Basquiat himself. One of his drafts for Vogue magazine he wrote about Basquiat after his death, is also included in the NVG’s exhibition.

The exhibition is supported by Creative Victoria and Mercedes-Benz.


Keith Haring, Jean-Michel Basquiat: Crossing Lines, National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne, 1 December-11 April 2020