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Keith Haring’s work in Arlington? It’s one of the best art exhibits of the year

(Star-Telegram, June 21, 2019)  Fifty original works from the king of street art are in Arlington for the next three months. The city of Six Flags, the Cowboys, and Rangers has a burgeoning arts scene. Now it has one of the best exhibits of the year and it is an exclusive, not a traveling show.

On view through September 15 at the Arlington Museum of ArtKeith Haring: Against All Odds includes works from throughout the artist’s career that explore subjects like consumerism, poverty, religious dogma, greed, violence, racism, environmental awareness and AIDS.

From downtown New York in the 1980’s, Keith Haring was an immeasurably influential artist and social activist with a visual language that is now universally recognizable. Haring’s huge public murals are sought after by tourists in cities all over the world and you would have to go overseas to the Tate Liverpool, where the UK’s first major Haring retrospective opened last week, to see an exhibit comparable to what is being offered here.

Inspired by graffiti, pop art and underground club culture, Haring first gained notoriety from his improvised white chalk drawings on black paper pasted on unused advertising spaces in New York City subways. He later created large-scale public works, had gallery exhibits, and collaborated with like-minded artists like Andy Warhol and Jean-Michel Basquiat. Haring was friends with Madonna and Yoko Ono and designed album covers for David Bowie and Run-DMC, as well as set decorations for MTV.

Set in motion with rhythmic lines, Haring created an apocalyptic cartoonish universe occupied by crawling children, spaceships, pyramids, dancing figures, barking dogs, televisions, and pop culture icons like Elvis Presley, Marilyn Monroe, and Mickey Mouse. Breaking down barriers between high and low art, Haring became a youthful star of the international art world in just a few short years before dying of AIDS — one of the political and social causes he addressed as an activist — at the age of 31 in 1990.

Haring was a brilliant artist who addressed serious issues. His works — which are mostly untitled — often tell a story, but were created spontaneously and he declined to offer any explanation of meaning. But his art is joyful, inspirational, and accessible to a wide audience. Some of the early pieces featured here are trios of Marilyn Monroe and Elvis Presley the artist created using Italian posters as canvases. Another trio seems to depict Mickey Mouse as a creature dropped off on this planet by a UFO before showing up on television.

The centerpiece of this exhibit is the largest work and perhaps one of Haring’s most recognizable, a portrait of two dancing figures under an enormous heart painted on a vinyl tarpaulin. When Haring added collage to his imagery — usually in the form of black-and-white photos of infants — his compositions are sometimes quite comparable to the paintings of Basquiat, especially the piece from 1988 at the top of the stairs leading to the second floor of the exhibit.

The show wraps up with several of Haring’s most stunning works created the year before his death. These wildly imaginative black-and-white compositions feature strange arrangements of snakes, knives, Earth globes, unidentifiable machines, and plenty of hands and feet.

The Arlington Museum of Art has brought some big-name exhibits in recent years. The space featured shows from Vivian Maier and Pablo Picasso in 2016, as well as a Salvador Dali exhibit in 2017 and 2018. To make this exhibit happen, chair of the board Chris Hightower spent the last year working with executives from the Rubell Family Collection in Miami, which has one of the largest bodies of Haring’s work.

“Haring was a philanthropist and really wanted art to be more transcendent than art for art’s sake,” Hightower said. “He wanted it to be more for public consumption, democratic, and part of the culture. He was really special. Arlington gets looked over a lot, but this exhibit demonstrates that it is part of the cultural arts scene in North Texas.”

It is unlikely that many people in this region have seen more than one or two works by Haring at a time while visiting major museums and chances are slim that you will have another chance to view something like this in Dallas-Fort Worth in the near future. This exhibit would have been a good get for the Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth or the Dallas Museum of Art.

If this show was in New York City or Los Angeles, people from all over the world would likely travel to see it. It is truly shocking that the Arlington Museum of Art has made this happen, but so far this exhibit is somehow going under the radar here in North Texas.

Keith Haring: Against All Odds

Arlington Museum of Art

June 21-September 15, 2019

$10 for adults

$5 for seniors/students

Children 12 and under are free with family

This story by Jeremy Hallock for the Star-Telegram was originally published on June 21, 2019.