Five things to know before visiting the NGV’s world-premiere exhibition, Keith Haring | Jean-Michel Basquiat: Crossing Lines

Five things to know before visiting the NGV’s world-premiere exhibition, Keith Haring | Jean-Michel Basquiat: Crossing Lines

They were the kings of the 1980s art world. Yet, they were utterly unpretentious. Their art wasn’t just for those in the art scene. It was for the masses.  

Keith Haring and Jean-Michel Basquiat, and their radical views, were well ahead of their time. They had something to say about the society they lived in, and used their work to comment on racism, social justice and consumerism.  

Defining the 1980s New York art scene, the pair came to be known as two of the greatest artists of the late twentieth century. Their legacies continue today in visual and pop culture. 

Installation of Keith Haring | Jean-Michel Basquiat: Crossing Lines exhibition at NGV International. Photo: Jake Kohler 
© Keith Haring Foundation, New York 
© Estate of Jean-Michel Basquiat. Licensed by Artestar, New York 

For the first time, their works will come together at the National Gallery of Victoria’s (NGV) world-premiere exhibition Keith Haring | Jean-Michel Basquiat: Crossing Lines.  

As the exclusive learning partner of the NGV’s Major Summer Exhibition, La Trobe runs the only university subject to be taught at the NGV.  

La Trobe students will have the opportunity to travel back in time to 1980s New York, and immerse themselves in the world of Haring and Basquiat whilst learning from industry experts. 

Here, we’ll get to know five important things you should know about the artists before you visit.  

  1. Keith Haring was an icon of New York City’s LGBTIQ+ arts scene 

New York City in the early 1980s was experiencing what would come to be known as the ‘golden age of gay life’ – the period between the emergence of gay liberation and the onset of AIDS. Gay culture was flourishing. A groundswell of possibilities began to open up for LGBTIQ+ artists to express their authentic selves. Firmly centred in this movement was Keith Haring. 

The point of making art is to communicate and contribute to culture.

Keith Haring
Installation of Keith Haring | Jean-Michel Basquiat: Crossing Lines exhibition at NGV International. Photo: Jake Kohler 
© Keith Haring Foundation, New York 
© Estate of Jean-Michel Basquiat. Licensed by Artestar, New York 
  1. Their work began in the streets and subways of New York City 

Keith Haring’s calling card was often a distinctive drawing left on a subway wall. He favoured bold dancing figures which would later become synonymous with his name. Jean-Michel Basquiat covered street walls, signs and other surfaces with what Haring described as a ‘literary graffiti’. He, and school friend Al Diaz, were the artists behind the iconic ‘SAMO’ tag, which stands for ‘Same Old Shit’. Haring and Basquiat were there at the beginning of the glory days of New York’s underground street art scene. 

Many of Keith Haring’s works use day-glo paint that glows under UV light, and were featured in ‘black light’ exhibition spaces, as recreated at the NGV. Installation of Keith Haring | Jean-Michel Basquiat: Crossing Lines exhibition at NGV International. Photo: Jake Kohler 
© Keith Haring Foundation, New York 
© Estate of Jean-Michel Basquiat. Licensed by Artestar, New York 
  1. Both burned bright and died young 
Keith Haring’s A Pile of Crowns for Jean-Michel Basquiat. Installation of Keith Haring | Jean-Michel Basquiat: Crossing Lines exhibition at NGV International. Photo: Jake Kohler 
© Keith Haring Foundation, New York 
© Estate of Jean-Michel Basquiat. Licensed by Artestar, New York 

Each artist’s individual success also came with devastating personal loss. Both had their lives cut short, Basquiat’s due to an accidental drug overdose in 1988 and Haring’s to AIDS in 1990. The pair lost many friends to the AIDS crisis, too, and Haring was a vocal advocate for safe sex as he fought the stigma associated with the condition. Commentary on the AIDS crisis can be seen in much of Haring’s works. Included in the NGV’s exhibition is Haring’s final tribute to Basquiat after his friend’s death, A Pile of Crowns for Jean-Michel Basquiat.  

  1. They were both at the centre of New York’s Downtown Scene 

Basquiat briefly dated Madonna and mixed with icons of the era such as Grace Jones who also collaborated with Haring on iconic performances. Andy Warhol was Basquiat’s landlord and collaborator. Both artists featured in ‘the first radical art show of the 80s’, The Times Square Show, that brought art to the streets alongside Nan Goldin, Jenny Holzer and Kenny Scharf. 

Photographs featuring Basquiat, Haring and other stars of the 80s including Madonna and Grace Jones line the walls of the NGV, giving an insight into the atmosphere of the time. Installation of Keith Haring | Jean-Michel Basquiat: Crossing Lines exhibition at NGV International. Photo: Jake Kohler 
© Keith Haring Foundation, New York 
© Estate of Jean-Michel Basquiat. Licensed by Artestar, New York 

Art is nothing if you don’t reach every segment of the people.

Keith Haring 
  1. They challenged the conventions and traditions of the art world 

Sharing their creations with fellow New Yorkers in the city’s streets and subway stations at the beginning of their careers underpinned the pair’s belief that art should be accessible to everyone and not, as Haring wrote in his diary, a ‘bourgeois art for the few’. It was this view, combined with their beginnings as underground street artists, that saw some of the biggest forces in the art establishment turn away from their works during their lifetimes. Now, decades after their deaths, their works are tightly held and highly valuable, with one of Basquiat’s paintings listed among the most expensive American paintings of all time. Housed in the world’s best galleries and museums, their works are viewed by hundreds of thousands of everyday people. Not dissimilar to their early works in the streets and subway stations and, perhaps, just as they intended. 

A range of postcards made collaboratively by Basquiat and artist Jennifer Stein are on display at the NGV, created at a time when he had no fixed address. These postcards led to Basquiat’s introduction to artist Andy Warhol. Photo: Jake Kohler 

Join La Trobe experts as they give pop up talks as part of Bold Thinking by La Trobe in the exhibition gallery at selected NGV Friday Nights 

Hear from multidisciplinary La Trobe academics about the themes that feed into the works of Haring and Basquiat mentioned in this article. 

See the full list of academics, themes and dates here

Learn more about La Trobe’s Clever Partnership with the NGV. 

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