Keith Haring made art like he was running out of time. His passion, optimism, and the work ethic that he exhibited throughout his art and life are inspiring. Though his career was short, his work continues to captivate the next generation. Part of the universal draw of Haring's work has been its accessibility. Anyone can come across a work by Keith Haring whether it is on a t-shirt in the mall or in a major art gallery. Art by Keith Haring is for everyone.
One of the places you can experience a stunning collection of Haring’s work, that reaches across his lifetime, is the current show Keith Haring: Radiant Gambit at the World Chess Hall of Fame. In this two-floor exhibition, you are able to experience a wide range of work. Dancing figures, bright colors, and bold lines are everywhere. You also get to see some great photographs that give a glimpse into the height of his career.
Haring’s spirit and hope can be seen within one of his famous icons, Radiant Baby. There are several examples of Radiant Baby that can be seen in the exhibition. One stands out specifically within Haring’s Icons print series. Untitled (from the Icons print series) 1990, a large silk-screened print. Fun, life, energy can all be seen within the simple lines and colors chosen for this print. This series was created towards the end of Haring’s life and really encapsulates his legacy as an artist. This piece accomplishes so much in a few lines and colors. For Keith Haring, the radiant baby symbolizes innocence, purity, youthful energy, and goodness—all qualities that are imperative for the world right now.
Radiant Baby along with Haring’s other figures from Haring’s beloved works also appear in two Keith Haring inspired chess sets.The Keith Haring Chess Set from 2019 has barking dogs lining up as pawns for both sides, jumping figures as knights, and the radiant baby held up as the king. This whimsical chess set remains true to the spirit of Haring’s philosophy of art belonging to everyone, including people who play chess! The other chess set from 2001 was created by the Keith Haring Foundation after his death and features radiant baby as the pawns, dancing dogs as the queens, and as the king is one of Haring's birds with a tiny crown. The crown is a nod to Jean-Michel Basquiat, one of Keith Haring’s friends and a famous artist. Basquiat often used symbols in his artwork like Haring, and the crown drawn with three points is one of Basquiat’s icons. Art history and chess combine within these two chess sets and each of them become a multi-layered functional work of art.
A fact about Keith Haring that people may not know was his respect and love for children. He created a series of works that were made for children and also created art with them. Haring believed, “Children are colorblind and still free of all the complications, greed, and hatred that will slowly be instilled in them through life.” Adjacent to the Icon series in the exhibition is The Story of Red and Blue. It is a humorous 21-print installation of two colors taking many forms and then eventually coming together to create a new color. Animals, people, shapes, are all put together to create a fun and whimsical piece. This piece is obviously geared towards children and made me want to read more about Haring’s care for children. He organized children’s art workshops, painted a mural at a children’s hospital in Paris, and even created a series of prints with a young visitor to the Pop Shop, the Kalish series, which you can see on view on the opposing wall of the gallery.
Haring’s legacy also lives on through charitable work. In 1989, just after he was diagnosed with AIDS, he established the Keith Haring Foundation. The foundation was created to ensure Haring’s philanthropic work would continue on after his death. The two main focuses of this foundation are to support organizations in the fight against HIV and AIDS and to maintain a collection of art while preserving the archives of Keith Haring’s life and work.
Overall, this exhibition of Keith Haring's work is a gift that fulfills Haring’s wish to have art that is accessible to everyone and bring multiple audiences together through his art. As Haring famously stated, “Art is nothing if you don’t reach every segment of the people.” Keith Haring: Radiant Gambit at the World Chess Hall of Fame accomplishes that, and more.
Keith Haring: Radiant Gambit is on view through May 16, 2021. A virtual tour of the exhibition is available on the World Chess Hall of Fame’s YouTube channel.
Brittany Jasin is an artist based in Saint Louis. She currently works as a gallery attendant at the World Chess Hall of Fame. Jasin assists with daily operations as well as installation and research projects with the museum staff.