Reconnecting with Keith Haring’s Grace House Mural (in 13 Pieces)

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DENVER – Exhibition “Keith Haring: Grace House Mural” It may not bring together the happy ending that the Keith Haring Foundation envisioned for the 85-foot-tall masterpiece that the artist painted at a Manhattan youth center nearly four decades ago.

Although happy enough, at least in the short term.

After all, the show makes public the action-packed artwork that Haring placed one evening in the three-story stairwell of Grace House as a tribute to teenagers who frequent Catholic-run nonprofits on the Upper West Side.

Working for only two hours, the artist left behind a few signature moves. The shimmering baby, the barking dog, the dancing man – they were all included in this merry parade of faceless figures climbing the steps. The future of the mural was in doubt when the shelter closed in 2016 and its operator, Church of the Ascension, sold the building, refusing the foundation’s pleas to secure a buyer who would keep the business.

Instead, he paid and sent an excavation company $900,000 to extract it in sections. It was auctioned off at Bonhams in 2019. The work brought in $3.86 million, a Haring mural record. As the buyer chose to remain anonymous, concerns arose that an item intended to support young spirits would land in a wealthy collector’s home and be out of sight of everyone.

But here it is at the Denver Museum of Contemporary Art, sliced ​​and diced and slightly worse to wear, but still holding the most important examples of the work of an important painter. Nora Burnett Abrams, director of the museum and curator of the show, has a personal connection to the recipient, whose name she has not disclosed. The owner offered to loan the piece to the museum, and Abrams accepted. Original works by the artist in Denver Died of AIDS in 1990 At 31, it’s rare.

This summer, however, visitors will find it hard to forget that the mural is divided into 13 pieces, disrupting the flow that is an integral part of the settlement. Haring drew this—in 1983 or 1984, neither Abrams nor foundation is entirely sure—as a continuous piece, curving around doors, corners, and pipes.

The oddly shaped wall sections reflect their original location; some have angled tops or bottoms that reflect the ceilings or floors of the sloping stairwell; one still has an embedded light switch; the other has a “fire extinguisher” sign attached.

The firm that released the pieces, EverGreene Architectural Arts, did this painstakingly, saving just a few inches of the wall’s concrete block face and reinforcing it with a metal frame in the back. The painted surface was left untouched and the original scratches, scrapes and cracks remained.

So does Haring’s charming brush with black house paint. His figures, rendered as simple line drawings, still have a fluid painterly quality. Working quickly and without sketching or underpainting, Haring used his brush with precision, turning sharp corners around his elbows and ankles without disturbing the depth of their surface – repeatedly picking up and releasing his brush to create lines that imply movement, just a few ordinary drip marks behind him.

The Denver museum has thoughtfully worked to make the mural look comfortable in its new setting. Individual sections that weigh hundreds of pounds and stretch up to 9 feet high and wide are difficult to view. Some have six edges. The museum has built its own walls around them to make it look like they’re buried inside the building. Original doors, mailboxes, and a Grace House building plaque are incorporated into the context arrangement.

Still, the display has its limitations. Even with the extensions, viewers who tour the four rooms of the exhibition can’t help but feel that they are looking at a factory version of it, not the original Grace House mural. Lifting this work from a stairwell deadly obscures the stair-climbing narrative. The story is lost.

Gil Vazquez, acting director of the Keith Haring Foundation, describes the final result as “bittersweet”. He knows it could be worse; The mural could have been destroyed in Manhattan’s multimillion-dollar real estate turmoil. As the museum notes, Haring painted 45 murals in his lifetime, and less than half are still around.

However, Vazquez said the Grace House mural can also be recovered in its original form. The foundation worked to promote the sale of the building between the church and the Ali Forney Center, an organization serving homeless LGBTQ youth, but the deal was unsuccessful.

“At least this thing exists so that it can be studied,” Vazquez said. For now, many young people will have a chance to see it. The Denver Museum of Contemporary Art welcomes children, and admission is free for anyone 18 and under. The mural will be on display there until August 22 and has been booked for one more public viewing: a stop Schunck Museum In March in Heerlen, Netherlands. Beyond that, Abrams said he didn’t know the owner’s plans. Happy enough will have to do it for now.

Keith Haring: House of Grace Mural

through August 22 at the Museum of Contemporary Art, 1485 Delgany Street, Denver, Co.; 303-298-7554, mcadenver.org.

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