We were walking the other day in the West Village when we overheard the buzz on 13th street. There is a public viewing of the Keith Haring mural at the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual & Transgender Community Center. The mural will be available for public viewing for the most of March, during all hours of the Center operations (M-F 9am-10pm, Sa 11am-10pm, Su 11am-9pm).
The mural entitled Once Upon a Time was painted by Haring in the second floor men’s room. Since the center’s opening on June 1st, 1989, the ‘Haring Bathroom’ as people used to call it, has become, an internationally known tourist destination. The mural was completed only a few months before Haring died of AIDS, making it one of his most personal and resonant expressions.
The center was going through major renovation through the years of 1998-2001, when new bathrooms were created and the old bathrooms were re-purposed as meeting rooms, but the ‘Haring Bathroom’ needed a different approach. Can you imagine having a meeting while your background is a penis?
The partitions and toilets were removed but the tile walls and all the old pipes and ducts were left were when Keith originally painted on or around them. Between the years of 1989 and 2011, through normal use, not to mention the major renovation project, the mural acquired a layer of grime and some of the underlying paint started to peel away from the plaster.
The plaster and paint on which Keith painted were not in the best shape to begin with and you can see the areas where he painted over pre-existing cracks.
It was time to bring in a professional conservator to clean and stabilize the mural. In October 2011, Harriet Irgang Alden and her colleagues spent three weeks cleaning the entire mural, one square inch at a time, applying stabilizing material where wall paint was separating from plaster and carefully in-filling some of the lines. The mural is part of Keith Haring’s legacy and I think the pictures of it speak louder than words: