Pop culture icon Keith Haring’s bold images of barking dogs, dancing figures, and radiant babies are synonymous with New York in the 1980, and remain as relevant today as then. The Art Gallery of Ontario (AGO) is currently presenting brightly bold and beautiful exhibiton, Keith Haring: Art Is for Everybody. It goes far beyond the familiar, to explore the artist’s foundational commitment to social justice, from his activism for AIDS during the initial days of the crisis, to his legacy Foundation that continues his work posthumously today

This is the first exhibition of Haring’s work to be shown in Canada in more than 25 years, with the last one also being exhibited at the AGO. It features more than 200 artworks and ephemera, including large-scale paintings on tarpaulin and canvas, sculptures, works on paper, videos, fashion artifacts, archival materials, and representations of his famed subway drawings.

Surveying Haring’s brief but intense decade-long career, the exhibition reveals an artist who used his art and celebrity to protest apartheid in South Africa, raise awareness of the crack cocaine epidemic and the AIDS pandemic, and to denounce racism, capitalism, nuclear war, environmental degradation and the harmful impact of technology and mass media.

Known for his use of vibrant color, energetic linework, and iconic characters like the barking dog and the radiant baby, Haring’s artwork continues to dissolve barriers between art and life and spread joy by reverberating with exuberant energy and love.

Art Is for Everyone brings together significant pieces from the Keith Haring Foundation (New York) and The Broad (Los Angeles), with rarely seen works from numerous public and private collections, including Toronto queer philanthropist, Salah Bachir. Ranging from his early days in New York City and the quick and impactful subway drawings Haring called “a public gift to the world”, to his breakout show at Tony Shafrazi Gallery in Soho in 1982, and his (intentionally) Unfinished Painting (1989), Art Is for Everybody is organized in a loose chronology, and explores pertinent themes.

The expansive exhibition features immersive elements, including a gallery lit by Day Glo paint, set to a soundtrack of songs from Haring’s personal mixtapes, featuring Eric B. & Rakim, the Beastie Boys, Aretha Franklin and Grace Jones. Each piece in this “gallery” is “untitled”.

Featured artworks include:

  • Photographs of Haring working in the New York City subway by the artist Tseng Kwong Chi
  • Video works including 1979’s Painting Myself in a Corner and A Circle Play, footage of Bill T. Jones’ collaboration with Haring and his 1982 Times Square animation
  • A selection of Haring’s early tabloid cut-out works on paper critical of Ronald Reagan and early journals
  • Snake Totem (1984), a metal sculpture created by Haring and jewelry designer David Spada for Grace Jones’s Interview magazine photoshoot with Robert Mapplethorpe
  • Two monumental carved wood sculptures that during the artist’s lifetime were featured at parties at the Paradise Garage nightclub
  • An Untitled painting, exclusively shown only at the AGO, used for the cover of David Bowie’s 1983 single Without You
  • A pink leather suit painted by Haring in collaboration with LA II and worn by Madonna
  • Haring’s 11 metre long tarpaulin mural, Untitled (1987), courtesy the Keith Haring Foundation, New York, affectionately known as “Devil Nose
  • The Red Room (1988), an epic send up of Matisse’s 1908 painting of the same name, featuring references to Coco Chanel
  • A selection of posters Haring made in support of the anti-apartheid movement and about the AIDS crisis, including a poster for ACT UP, the AIDS Coalition to Unleash Power

Keith Haring: Art is for Everybody is also the name of an accompanying 256 page fully illustrated hardcover catalogue, co-published by The Broad and Delmonico Books. The AGO gift shop also features other memorabilia, including clothing, that was inspired by the actual items Haring offered up at The Pop Shop that he opened in SoHo back in 1986.

Making its only Canadian stop at the AGO, Keith Haring: Art Is for Everybody aims to give a palpable sense of Keith Haring the artist and person, taking Haring’s journals as a key source for reading his work. Beginning with early student artworks made while Haring was at the School of the Visual Arts in New York, the exhibition shows a young artist finding his voice, developing his artistic vocabulary and experimenting with mediums.

A thread throughout is Haring’s activism, from his participation in anti-nuclear and anti-Apartheid demonstrations to his AIDS activism that is featured in the last gallery. The emphasis Haring placed on being in community is also highlighted, including his active social life and participation in the downtown club scene, spaces where he often incorporated his art; his collaborative practice working with other artists, musicians, dancers, and poets from diverse backgrounds; and his frequent work with children.

November Programming highlights:

AGO Friday Nights presents Keith Haring: Art Is for Everybody opening party
On Friday, November 17 from 6 p.m. to 9 p.m. The AGO celebrates the opening of
Keith Haring: Art Is for Everybody with an all ages night of art, music, and style, featuring legendary New York DJ Lina Bradford Free with Annual Pass. Presented in partnership with Yohomo. For more details visit, AGO.ca/events/ago-friday-nights-celebrating-keith-haring-art-everybody

Art-as-therapy workshops
On Saturday, November 18, from 10:30 a.m. to noon, inspired by Keith Haring’s socially conscious art, the AGO presents an adult workshop fostering well-being through art making. Led by trained art-therapists, participants will have the opportunity to play and self-reflect. AGO Members receive a discount. To register and for more details, visit AGO.ca/events/art-everybody-inspired-keith-haring

Bold Lines: Exploring Keith Haring
Beginning Sunday, November 19, in this 5-week studio workshop for youths ages 14-18, students will create drawings, paintings and prints inspired by Keith Haring’s line work. All materials included. AGO Members receive a discount. To register and for more details, visit AGO.ca/learn/courses/bold-lines-exploring-keith-haring

Library & Archives Unshelved
On Wednesday, November 29 from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m., AGO Librarian Donald Rance invites visitors to the Marvin Gelber Prints & Drawing Centre, to explore the AGO’s collection of artist books and multiples, including some by Keith Haring.  Free with General Admission.

Exhibition is on now until March 14, 2024 at the AGO – 317 Dundas Street West, Toronto

Admission to Keith Haring: Art Is for Everybody is a benefit for the AGO Community. To enter, show your AGO Membership or Annual Pass. Annual Passes are $35 (only $5 more than the price of one General Admission ticket), and includes free access to the AGO Collection and all special exhibitions for a full year. Annual Passes are free for visitors aged 14 to 25 and children 18 and under can visit for free when accompanying an AGO Member or Annual Pass holder. Admission is always free for Indigenous Peoples. The exhibition runs until March 17, 2024. For more details on how to become a Member or Annual Passholder, visit AGO.ca.

Keith Haring was born on May 4, 1958 in Reading, Pennsylvania, and was diagnosed with AIDS in 1988. In 1989, he established the Keith Haring Foundation, its mandate being to provide funding and imagery to AIDS organizations and children’s programs, and to expand the audience for Haring’s work through exhibitions, publications and the licensing of his images. Haring enlisted his imagery during the last years of his life to speak about his own illness and generate activism and awareness about AIDS. Keith Haring died of AIDS related complications at the age of 31 on February 16, 1990. 




About the Author

Bryen Dunn is a freelance journalist with a focus on travel, lifestyle, entertainment and hospitality. He has an extensive portfolio of celebrity interviews with musicians, actors and other public personalities. He enjoys discovering delicious eats, tasting spirited treats, and being mesmerized by musical beats.