There was a time in New York when you couldn't walk in the subway or along the sidewalk and not stumble upon Keith Haring's artwork -- those odd (and oddly amusing) posters and graffiti murals of cartoony shapes and squiggles.
"The public needs art, and it is the responsibility of a 'self-proclaimed artist' to realize and not to make bourgeois art for a few and ignore the masses," he wrote in his journal in 1978.
Now, a whole new generation can get to know Haring's work -- and those who think they know it can learn more about his formative years -- at a new exhibition, "Keith Haring: 1978-1982," at the Brooklyn Museum. The exhibit opened last week and runs through July 8.
Haring produced a vast amount of artwork before dying of AIDS-related complications in 1990 at age 31. This show offers 155 works on paper (many never before seen by the public) and more than 150 other artifacts -- journals, sketchbooks, wacky videos and more -- from Haring's early years as an artist, including his time as a student at the School of Visual Arts, and his immersion into the burgeoning arty-party-punk-rock scene in downtown Manhattan.
Be sure not to miss:
'Painting Himself Into a Corner' This 1979 video (Haring's first) shows the artist painting an abstract, geometric piece on a studio floor. His movements are fast, fluid, athletic, fueled by a pulsating soundtrack from the punk group Devo and, yes, he literally paints himself into a corner of the room.
'Matrix' This intricate, squiggly piece measures 6 feet high by 49 feet long. The museum kindly provides a bench. So sit, stare and try to figure out how Haring created it without preliminary sketches. "We don't know if he went left to right, or from the center out," says Raphaela Platow of Cincinnati's Contemporary Art Center, who curated the show. But, she adds, shaking her head in amazement, "It was done in one day."
The symbols An untitled orange drawing on paper from 1980 features a human figure, a dog, a pyramid, nuclear reactor and (this being the '80s) a boom box, all key icons that would pop up in his work in future years.
The slide show Every time Haring (illegally) posted drawings on subway walls, fellow artist Tseng Kwong Chi ran out and photographed them. (Now there's a buddy.) The result: some 1,000 images of Haring's work found amid ads for Riunite wine and Virginia Slims cigarettes. Recordings of the B-52s and other punks play in the background.
The Basquiat collaboration In the back gallery, a large piece of plywood with spray-painted graffiti is a rare example of Haring collaborating with popular street artist Jean-Michel Basquiat. (Haring's cartoonish figures and Basquiat's crown icons are unmistakable.)
WHAT "Keith Haring: 1978-1982"
WHEN | WHERE Through July 8 at the Brooklyn Museum,
200 Eastern Pkwy., Brooklyn
INFO $12, 718-638-5000, brooklynmuseum.org