Broad Strokes: Keith Haring

December 29, 20214 min read
Broad Strokes: Keith Haring
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  1. Upbringing 

Keith Haring was born on May 4, 1958, in Reading, Pennsylvania. As a child, he often drew alongside his father, an engineer with a passion for cartooning. Haring found inspiration in the cartoons and illustrations of Walt Disney, Charles Schultz, and Dr. Seuss. After high school, he spent two semesters at the Ivy School of Professional Art in Pittsburgh, a commercial arts school. Haring quickly discovered his passion did not lie in commercial art so he dropped out and continued to work and study on his own before moving to New York City in 1978 to attend the School of Visual Arts. In New York, Haring befriended like-minded artists such as Jean-Michel Basquiat and Kenny Scharf. Together, they often organized exhibitions at alternative venue spaces.

  1. He has sold 172 paintings for $146.1M at auction since 2006, with an average sales price of $835k.

Haring is most well-known for his graffiti-like imagery which explores themes of birth, death, sexuality, and war. Since 2006, 172 of Haring’s paintings have traded for an average of $835k at auction. The following dashboard — compiled and built out by the Athena Art Finance Team — shows how his paintings have consistently performed on the secondary market. 

The Hammer Ratio is the measurement of an artwork’s performance against its low auction estimate published ahead of the sales. This metric illustrates that Haring has consistently outperformed expectations, with his paintings hammering above pre-sale low estimates by 1.5x on average. This metric, unique to Athena, provides additional context for just how historically strong works by this artist have performed, and speaks to overall bidding appetite for his artworks.

  1. How he became popular 

Haring got his start in the subways of New York City. Upon seeing the rectangles of black paper that covered old or empty advertising panels, he purchased white chalk and etched his hieroglyphic-inspired drawings atop the black paper. His simple icons became his signature. Common figures in his work include babies emitting rays of light, flying saucers, and barking dogs. Subway commuters began to take note of his work. The bright colors, bold lines, and easily recognizable imagery of Haring’s art led to popularity with a wide audience. In 1981, he had his first solo exhibition at the Westbeth Painters Space in Manhattan. By 1982, he was showing his art at the Tony Shafrazi Gallery, which continued to represent him for the rest of his career.

  1. Controversy 

In 1984, Haring flew to Australia to paint a large mural on the front of the National Gallery of Victoria in Melbourne. Largely popular around the world at that time, Haring was surprised to discover that Australian activists were outraged by his work. These activists believed Haring was appropriating indigenous Australian line drawings, as his iconography bore a resemblance to motifs in Aboriginal art. In Haring’s words, “People there were seeing it as Aboriginal, but I was doing what I had been doing in New York and America and all over the world.” Roughly one month after Haring left Australia, a protester hurled a shot put through the central glass of the mural. Ultimately, Haring’s piece was removed.

  1. His Enduring Legacy 

On February 16, 1990, at the age of 31, Keith Haring died of AIDS-related complications. Over 1,000 people attended his memorial service in New York. Despite the brief span of his career, he managed to complete over 50 public works between 1982 and 1989, many of which carried social messages, such as his now famous Crack is Wack mural. In 1989, just one year before his death, Haring established the Keith Haring Foundation. The Foundation exists to this day and offers financial support to organizations that enrich the lives of underprivileged children and organizations that raise awareness about and engage in the care and prevention of HIV and AIDS.

  1. How have his pieces performed?

Athena’s proprietary analysis illustrates that since 2006, Haring’s average price for paintings had grown at a compound 11.1% annually. Of course, Past performance does not guarantee future results, but it is an interesting statistic when compared against other artists like Mark Rothko.

You don’t have to know art to recognize the significance of these returns. If you’re interested in learning more about art finance and how blue-chip paintings are valued, please visit  learn more about Yieldstreet and Athena’s art finance