A pal of Andy Warhol and Jean-Michel Basquiat, Keith Haring’s work has never reached the same level of market value as his 80s buddies. But his work offers both art historical heft and urban art edge to collectors. Haring’s Retrospect from 1989 will be offered in Sotheby’s upcoming London Prints sale on March 20th at an estimate of £150,000-200,000.
A prominent figure of New York’s East Village art scene in the 1980s, Haring’s career was short, yet prolific. The young artist established his pop-graffiti style using a set of recognizable imagery and clear-cut narrative cues, tagging them throughout New York’s vacant ad spaces and subway. Featuring a strip of 24 individual scenes, Retrospect comprises a host of Haring’s repeated emblems. Kneeling figures, babies, dogs and angels serve as focal points for Haring’s exploration of the socio-political threats—the AIDS epidemic and foreign conflicts—that were so urgent to his contemporaries.
The artist attributed the inception of his visual language to adolescent use of hallucinogens, admitting “psychedelic shapes would come like automatic writing, come out of my unconscious.” Equal parts pop culture, art and social activism, Haring’s graphic works were democratic messages for the citizenry he viewed as his audience. They remain an incomparable example of street art’s ability to both incite political resistance and provide an artist with indelible visibility.
The late 1980s were a critical turning point in Haring’s brief life. In 1986, he founded the famous Pop Shop, a space for ground-level public participation and a straight-forward bid for commercial success beyond the strictures of the art world. In 1989, a year after the 31 year-old artist was diagnosed with AIDS, he publicly acknowledged the severity of his condition in an interview with Rolling Stone.
Recently, the New York mid-season sale results indicated that the market for works by Haring is continuing to see resetting sales. In early March, Haring’s pink graphic 1983 Smile with Three Eyes far surpassed its low estimate of $60,000 in the Sotheby’s New York Contemporary Curated sale, selling for a total of $387,500, a high price for the small work on paper. Among the other lots from Haring’s oeuvre which has seen recent success at auction was his 1986 edition Dog, a wall mount sculpture in the artist’s signature hieroglyphic pose sold at Bonhams in a London edition sale for $470,769. It landed solidly above its high estimate of $376,553.
The market for works by Keith Haring has sustained strong numbers in recent years, but has long awaited another upward sales cycle. The highest price ever paid for the artist’s work remains with his 1989 Silent = Death tarpaulin sold in a Christie’s Post-War and Contemporary Art Evening Sale in 2019 for $5.6m.