NYLS has unveiled a striking new display on its Tribeca campus: “Keith Haring’s New York.” The tribute celebrates the work of Keith Haring (1958–1990), an iconic visual artist and activist whose exuberant drawings emphasize justice, community-building, and a fierce love of New York City.
The Keith Haring Foundation generously supported the display in honor of the Safe Passage Project, a nonprofit housed at NYLS that provides free legal counsel to unaccompanied children and teenagers facing immigration court. The Safe Passage Project was founded by Professor Lenni Benson and is led by Executive Director Rich Leimsider. It engages many NYLS students and alumni in its advocacy efforts.
Haring’s works on display include a pop art-style Statue of Liberty with citizens standing below, their arms raised. Other pieces depict figures in motion below a bright red New York “big apple,” two figures supporting a rainbow heart, and a series of colorful figures standing on one another’s shoulders.
Socially conscious, optimistic, and energetic, the collection evokes the power of collective advocacy and the law to lift people toward opportunity and build a more just world. In doing so, it highlights NYLS’s commitment to human rights and civil rights, through its 20-plus legal clinics, its new Social Justice Organization Incubator, and its participation in groundbreaking events like WorldPride 2019, the first such event on U.S. soil. (NYLS will host the WorldPride NYC Human Rights Conference on June 24 and 25, 2019.)
Haring drew inspiration from daily life in New York City, where he moved at age 20 to attend the School of Visual Art. One of his earliest canvases was the subway, where he sketched lively white chalk drawings on unused advertising squares. In his writing, he reflected on the value of shared urban spaces: “The subway drawings were, as much as they were drawings, performances,” he wrote. “It was where I learned how to draw in public … There were always confrontations, whether it was with people that were interested in looking at it, or people that wanted to tell you you shouldn’t be drawing there …”
Even as he gained international prominence, Haring remained a proponent of democratic, accessible art and ultimately created more than 50 public works in cities around the world. Asked about his artistic goals, he responded, “A more holistic and basic idea of wanting to incorporate [art] into every part of life … Taking it off the pedestal. I’m giving it back to the people …”
Haring also promoted the well-being of children, painting bright, playful murals at day care centers, pediatric hospitals, and orphanages, and teaching art programs at schools and museums. Openly gay and diagnosed with AIDS in 1988, he emphasized messages of unity, acceptance, and AIDS awareness in his work. He created the Keith Haring Foundation in 1989 to support AIDS research and children’s programs shortly before his death at age 31.
With this new display, NYLS honors his commitment to the shared values of social justice, equality, and dignity for all people. Find the collection on the second floor of the W building.