Even now, more than thirty after his death, Keith Haring remains a symbol of New York City’s street art scene. Haring came to New York to study at the School of Visual Arts in 1978 and quickly immersed himself in the city’s alternative art scene, befriending Jean-Michel Basquiat, Kenny Scharf, and Andy Warhol. While he experimented with video, installation, collage, and performance art, his true talent lay in his line paintings.
Over time, he came to be known for his distinctive style using bold, heavy lines, simple shapes and figures, and bright colors. In the ’80s, Haring gained international recognition, but he never stopped giving back to the community, creating many public murals around the world. He died on February 16, 1990, in his apartment in Greenwich Village due to complications from AIDS. Here, we look back at the work Haring left behind for New Yorkers to enjoy.
8. New York Historical Society, Upper West Side
In April 1986, Haring opened the Pop Shop in Soho, where he sold t-shirts, toys, posters, buttons, and magnets with his designs on them. Though the shop was criticized in the art world, Haring saw it as a way to make his work accessible to a wide audience that couldn’t afford to buy works of art.
He painted an abstract white-on-black mural in the shop’s interior. When the store closed in 2005, the Haring Foundation donated a part of this mural to the New York Historical Society. It now hangs above the admissions desk.
7. “Self Portrait” at Astor Place
This 1989 sculpture, entitled “Self Portrait,” arrived at 51 Astor Place in December 2014. The piece was installed in tandem with a Jeff Koons rabbit in the lobby of the building. Standing atop a short round base, the painted green aluminum figure strikes a dancing pose. This sculpture is one in a series of seven.
In September 2020, the sculpture was temporarily removed for conservation work but was put back in place in April 2022. While this version stands just under 12 feet tall, a 30-foot version of the sculpture can be found in Lincoln Park in Chicago.
6. Two Dancing Figures
Also from 1989, the “Two Dancing Figures,” appear at 17 State Street in downtown Manhattan next to The Battery. The yellow and red figures that make up this sculpture are in a similar pose as the figure in “Self Portrait.” At the same address, you’ll find Haring’s “Balancing Dog.” Both sculptures are part of the Lever House Art Collection.
Created in 2003 by RFR Realty President Aby Rosen and private dealer Alberto Mugrabi, the collection includes many different works of art that appear in RFR-owned buildings across the city. Check out more permanent Lower Manhattan art installations here!
5. Woodhull Medical Center, Brooklyn
Haring created this 700-foot-long mural over the course of a week in 1986. It was a personal gift from Haring to the hospital to show his admiration for the hospital’s dedication to pediatric AIDS research and treatment. Haring camped out at the Bed-Stuy hospital in order to work on the project.
During breaks in painting, the artist signed autographs and did little drawings on t-shirts and poster boards for anyone who asked. The brightly colored, exuberant figures shepherd patients through the main lobby and down two corridors.
4. Cathedral of St. John the Divine, Morningside Heights
Haring’s triptych altarpiece “The Life of Christ” is the last work he completed in his lifetime, just two weeks before he died. It was his first time working with clay, which he carved with a loop knife. The subject matter is uncharacteristically religious for Haring: Christ on the cross, hands reaching toward heaven, a baby lifted up by a pair of hands, a fallen angel, and the resurrection.
The altarpiece, which was cast in bronze and covered in gold leaf, was dedicated at Haring’s memorial service at the Cathedral of Saint John the Divine. It is part of an edition of nine, one of which is permanently installed at the Saint-Eustache Church in Paris.
3. Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual & Transgender Community Services Center, Greenwich Village
In 1988, curator Rick Barnett organized a site-specific exhibition to commemorate the 20th anniversary of the Stonewall riots. Fifty artists decorated the walls, doors, and other surfaces of the LGBT Community Center in Greenwich Village. Haring was given free reign of the second-floor men’s restroom and told he could create whatever he wanted.
Though Haring rarely titled his work, he called this mural Once Upon a Time, “reflecting back on the pre-AIDS period,” according to Robert Woodworth, Director of Capital Projects at the Center. The mural can be viewed online in a 3D virtual tour. It is also open to the public for in-person viewing during The Center’s operating hours.
2. Carmine Street Swimming Pool, West Village
Haring painted this 170-foot-long mural on the wall that connects the Carmine Street Pool to the James J. Walker Park handball court in August 1987. Haring typically created work based on his inspiration of the moment—not prior sketches. For this mural, he incorporated aquatic colors and motifs, like fish, dolphins, and mermaids.
The mural at this 1930s pool was restored by the Keith Haring Foundation in 1995.
1. Crack is Wack, Harlem
Haring painted this huge mural on the handball court at East 128th Street and Harlem River Drive in 1986 as a response to the city-wide crack-cocaine epidemic of the late ’80s. Though Haring painted it without city permission, it was quickly put under the protection of the Parks Department, which conserved it and restored it in 2007. “Crack is Wack” is one of Haring’s most easily accessible public works.
For four years during the reconstruction of the Harlem River Drive, the mural was obscured by a protective shelter. In 2019, the restored murals were revealed.
Bonus: Plaza 33, Penn Station Pedestrian Plaza
In the summer of 2015, Plaza 33 was installed as a temporary pedestrian passageway next to Penn Station. Along with a Roy Lichtenstein pop art sculpture, reminiscent of a work inside the Tweet Courthouse downtown, a Keith Haring sculpture was installed.
To see a list of all of Keith Haring’s existing public works, head over to the Haring Foundation. Get in touch with the author @lauraitzkowitz.
Next, check out Inside Keith Haring’s Last Apartment