The week long online sale that closed on October 1st, “Dear Keith: Works from the Personal Collection of Keith Haring” as staged at Sotheby’s to benefit the New York based LGBTQ organization, The Center, was 100 percent sold for an estimate busting $4.6 million and in auction parlance, qualified as a White Glove sale.
Haring, who died of AIDS in 1990 at the age of 31, established his eponymous foundation and charity in 1989. The Sotheby’s auction represents the artist’s 144 lot art and ephemera collection that was built from the time he moved to New York in 1978 and met the likes of Jean-Michel Basquiat, Kenny Scharf, Andy Warhol, Jenny Holzer, Lady Pink and other denizens of the downtown art and club scene.
The lion’s share was acquired through art trades, skipping the usual route of galleries or auction houses.
Sharing top lot honors was Andy Warhol’s 40 by 40 inch silkscreen on canvas, a double-portrait of the bare-chested lovers, ”Keith Haring and Juan DuBose” from 1983 that sold for $504,000 (est. $200-300,000), matching [lot #1017] the whopping price of the untitled collaborative, 19 part, paint marker on Plexiglas installation by graffiti icons Fab Five Freddy, Keith Haring, Jean-Michel Basquiat, Futura, Rammellzee, Haze, Zephyr, Sniper, CHI-193 and Chino from 1981 and estimated at $80,000-120,0000.
Each panel measured 16 by 16 inches and perhaps the most famous of the group was Basquiat’s sketch of his instantly recognizable crown symbol hovering over a baseball and titled Famous Negro Athletes.
There were 29 online bids chasing that prize, according to Sotheby’s.
Another Basquiat, an untitled work in acrylic on found aluminum from circa 1985, measuring just 15 ¾ by 7 ½ inches and featuring a skeleton head and crown, went for $226,800 (est. $100-150,000).
Among other giant names in the Haring trove, Roy Lichtenstein’s “Forms in Space” from 1985, depicting a stylized American flag, executed in silkscreen on paper and inscribed “For Keith,” made $214,200 (est. $50,000-70,000).
The Lichtenstein occupied pride of place and hung over the mantle of Haring’s La Guardia Place home.
Haring’s own painting, “Untitled (Elvis)” from May 1981 and executed in ink and paint market on poster and featuring the legendary crooner- rocker in a red denim jacket with turned up collar and purposely unrealistic brown skin, shot to $239,400 after 29 bids (est. $30-50,000).
In the ephemera category, [lot 1056] Andy Warhol’s “Untitled (Tie)” from 1984 in acrylic on cut canvas is a holy Pop relic formed from discarded trimmings from the edges of Warhol’s paintings and further inscribed to “Sean” as in Sean Lennon. It fetched $201,600 (est. $5,000-7,000.)
According to the online catalogue entry, the 1 ¾ by 54 inch tie was meant as a birthday gift for the nine-year old Lennon in 1989 (as in John & Yoko Lennon’s son), and Haring went to his birthday party on Taverne on the Green in Central Park along with Warhol who brought along several of the ties. He gave one to Haring who eventually signed his name and monogram on the frame, and retelling the episode.
In that same ephemera category, Kenny Scharf’s ”Untitled (Record Player)” from circa 1985 and made up of hand-painted acrylic and felt-tip pen on vinyl record player, stereo receiver and two speakers, played loud at $75,600 (est. $8,000-12,000), thanks to 36 bids.
Another Scharf (he & Keith went to art school together at the School of Visual Arts and partied hard at places like Club 57 and the Mudd Club) “Untitled” from circa 1985, a goofily cartoonish creation executed on a grand scale at 108 by 170 inches in spray enamel on paper, went for $226,800 (est. $25-35,000).
Obviously, or it seemed that way to me, estimates were kept conservatively low to egg on Haring fans and others, a formula that proved both smart and profitable.If there was a single piece of art so emblematic to Haring’s brief era downtown, the honor would go to Lady Pink’s stellar composition, “1969 Super Camaro/A Double-Sided work” from 1984 and mural scaled at 112 14 by 119 inches that made a rousing and record $163,800 (est. $10-15,000).
Lady Pink was one of the few downtown women artists that made it to the elite ranks of the graffiti stars of the era.
A close contender would be the late and great polymath, Rammellzee’s “Death Note: Intrude the Prelude-Paint a Time and That Clocks” from 1988 in spray paint, collage and clock on wood that raced to a record $214,200 (est. $40-60,000).
The work was exhibited at the downtown salon gallery of Barbara Braathan in 1988.
Of the photographs offered in “Dear Keith,” one of Tseng Kwong Chi’s superlative and surrealistic images, “Cape Canaveral, Florida” from 1985, and comprised of a self-portrait with the artist in his signature Mao suit and mirrored glasses, standing and shaking hands with a space suited astronaut and inscribed, “Happy Birthday Keith,” orbited at $17,640 (est. $5,000-7,000) after 52 bids.
Tseng died of AIDS the same year as his close friend Keith at age 39.