Twenty one years ago today, we lost one of the most memorable and enduring figures of the 1980’s Downtown arts scene, Keith Haring (May 4, 1958 – February 16, 1990). Haring came to New York in 1978 to study at the School of Visual Art, and quickly became a noted up and coming artist. Haring utilized whatever canvas was available to him, including blank billboards in the city subways, combining graffiti art with murals and social commentary.
This rather unassuming building at 57 St. Mark’s Place played an important role in Haring’s early career. Built in 1850 as a single family home, 57 St. Mark’s Place had become a social club called The Mansion by the 1920’s, and in the middle of the century became the Holy Cross Polish National Catholic Church. From 1979-1983 the basement of the church was transformed into Club 57. Managed by Ann Magnuson, it became known for its theme nights, performance art and live music. Like the Pyramid Club in the proposed East Village/Lower East Side Historic District, Club 57 emerged as an alternative to the disco scene and gave Downtowners a place to express themselves freely.
Haring, a Club 57 regular, held one of his first New York City exhibitions here in 1980. That same year he also exhibited at Performance Space 122 in the East Village, and at Westbeth, recently landmarked after many years of advocacy by GVSHP.
Club 57 also attracted a number of other key figures of the era, including fellow artists Jean-Michel Basquiat, Kenny Scharf, Tseng Kwong Chi, actress Debi Mazar, and hip hop pioneer Fab Five Freddy. Like Haring, sadly many of these artists died well before their time.
Want more Keith Haring?
Check out the exhibit of his early work at The Brooklyn Museum opening next month.
If you’re interested in learning more about the avant-garde art scene of the late 1970’s and 1980’s, please come to GVSHP’s upcoming lecture, “The Piers: Art & Sex Along the New York Waterfront,” on Wednesday, March 14.