Keith Haring’s Legacy and History at Auction

Shreeya Maskey
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“Drawing is still basically the same as it has been since prehistoric times,” Keith Haring said. “It brings together man and the world. It lives through magic.” That principle applies to his own life. Despite his short career, Keith Haring’s legacy endures.

Haring rose to fame during the 1980s with his animated imagery. His colorful works employed a visual language that is recognized around the world. Haring’s images often convey his ideas and address political and social issues. In an interview, American figurative artist George Condo spoke about Keith Haring’s legacy and artwork: “It brought awareness and enlightened those out there who were stuck in some judgmental abyss that needed to be changed. Keith opened doors for that through his art.”

Keith Haring, Self-Portrait For Tony,1985. Image from Widewalls.
Keith Haring, Self-Portrait For Tony,1985. Image from Widewalls.

Over the years, Pop Art collectors have sought to own a piece of Keith Haring’s legacy. In 2020, for example, Sotheby’s offered paintings belonging to Keith Haring’s personal collection in a benefit sale. The top lots included works by Jean-Michel Basquiat, Andy Warhol, and Roy Lichtenstein. Most of the key lots more than doubled their high estimates as bidders pursued a rare opportunity to purchase Haring’s favorite paintings. 

A 1985 piece by Haring, titled Self-Portrait For Tony, recently sold for the record-setting price of USD 4.5 million in a Sotheby’s sale. In this piece, the artist employed a subtle palette of black and red against a white background. In 2016, Sotheby’s Contemporary Art Evening Auction sold Haring’s The Last Rainforest (1989) for USD 5.5 million, well above its estimate of $2.9 million to $4.3 million. Believed to be his “last masterpiece,” Haring completed the painting just a few months before his death. Haring covered the canvas with entangled mini-scenes instead of a central subject. Showing the endless connection between men, nature, and beasts, the work shows Haring’s interpretation of the world surrounding him.

“It should be viewed as Haring’s artistic last will and testament; a socio-political warning shot to those who would outlive him and a formal summation of his cruelly curtailed career,” Sotheby’s wrote in the auction catalog.

Keith Haring, The Last Rainforest, 1982. Image from Sotheby’s.
Keith Haring, The Last Rainforest, 1982. Image from Sotheby’s.

Another Haring artwork broke his previous record a year later. The 1982 painting holds the record price of $6,537,500, set during a 2017 Sotheby’s auction in New York. It highlights iconic Haring motifs, including red Xs, barking dogs, and angels. Among the painting’s key details is a person crawling through an explosion. Two angels hover above the smoke at either side of the person. Haring completed the painting shortly after he organized a rally in Central Park to address the use of nuclear power.

Keith Haring, Untitled, 1982. Image from Widewalls.
Keith Haring, Untitled, 1982. Image from Widewalls.

In May of 2019, Silence = Death realized $5,609,500 at Christie’s New York during a Post-War and Contemporary Art Evening Sale. Even after his death in 1990, Keith Haring’s legacy continues. Moreover, his works still command record-setting prices.

Want to know more about the auction histories of famous artists? Auction Daily recently explored the work by renowned 20th-century artist Tamara de Lempicka.

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James Ardis
James Ardis
Senior Writer and Editor

James Ardis is a writer, editor, and content strategist focused on the auction industry. His company, James Ardis Writing, has partnered with auction houses, galleries, and many clients outside the art world.

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