A recent visit to the highly-anticipated Keith Haring exhibit at the Brooklyn Museum, Keith Haring: 1978-1982 did not disappoint. The show looks at the early years of Haring’s career before his breakthrough exhibition at Tony Shafrazi’s SoHo space in 1982. According to a New York Magazine review, during these years Haring was “merely one of the crowd hanging out in a church-basement rec room on St. Mark’s Place.” The rec room in question was Club 57, named for its street address on St. Mark’s Place, located in the basement of a Polish church. Fellow artist and close friend Kenny Scharf described it as a scene where “art merged with punk rock and lost its preciousness.” This was a time when Keith developed his investigation of geometric patterns, delved into video art and writing, and explored his belief that art is for everyone. And much of this took place in the Village….
Club 57 was run by actress and performance artist Ann Magnuson. It was a place that was open to ideas from everyone, as long as they required little or no money. According to the review in New York Magazine, “Sets were crafted out of cardboard boxes and furniture plucked off East Village curbs and tossed out yet again immediately after the show. Props came from thrift stores and often went back the next day.” Magnuson described it as a “punk do-it-yourself aesthetic.”
One night in 1979, Haring and fellow SVA classmates Kenny Scharf and John McLaughlin (aka John Sex) finished drinks at the Holiday Cocktail Lounge at 75 St. Mark’s Place (sadly, this bar shuttered just a couple months ago) and stumbled into the nearby Club 57 after hearing 60s go-go music blasting inside.
At Club 57 Haring was known for his poems read in Morse Code from within a fake television set. It is also where he had his first art show, followed by many more. The Bowery Boys report that Keith once said Club 57 was, “the beginning of a whole career as the organizer and curator of some really interesting art shows.” For more information on Club 57, visit another recent GVSHP post marking the 21st anniversary of Haring’s death.
Around 1980, Haring, along with about 20 other artists, established a studio at PS 122, where he would also have a show later that year.
Moving all the way over to the West side, Keith Haring’s first solo show in New York was at the Westbeth Painter’s Space in 1981.
As previously mentioned, Keith’s breakout exhibit was at the Tony Shafrazi Gallery, 163 Mercer Street in SoHo.
Not far from 163 Mercer Street, Haring later opened his Pop Shop at 292 Lafayette Street in 1986. This store sold magnets, t-shirts, toys, posters, and more, all bearing his images and costing low prices. This was part of Haring’s philosophy and approach of making art accessible to everyone. Although it did receive criticism from much of the art world, the Pop Shop also garnered great support from the likes of Andy Warhol. Today, the Pop Shop operates online (the storefront closed in 2005).
In 1981, Haring had a show at the Hal Bromm Gallery on West Broadway in Tribeca. This September, GVSHP and the New School will present a panel discussion on Keith Haring, showcasing his time in the Village, and featuring Hal Bromm as a panelist. Until then, you can get your Haring fix at the Brooklyn Museum.