An extracted Keith Haring mural is coming up for auction at Bonhams on November 13th, 2019. The mural was painted on the walls of the stairwell of a New York City Catholic youth center called Grace House in 1983-1984. It consists of Haring’s famous black-line figure drawings crawling up the walls of the stairwell. It features a radiant baby, two figures conjoined, and other dancing and posing human figures. The youth center building was part of The Church of the Ascension. Haring frequented Grace House after befriending a few of the kids who spent time there. The mural marked Keith Haring’s presence in the building and has long been an integral part of the youth center’s culture. “When new kids came to that building and they saw all that stuff, they said, ‘Oh my god, this is Keith Haring. Is this real?’” said Gary Mallon, the former director of the youth center.
The decision to remove the mural comes with the realisation that the Grace House building needed to be sold after the youth center became a residential space. The building itself is over 90 years old and any potential buyer would almost definitely completely gut the place and renovate. So in an effort to conserve the mural, The Ascension Church has spent $900,000 extracted and preserving the mural in pieces. The work is expected to go for $3 million to $5 million at Bonhams auction, and is shaping up to be one of the most expensive Haring pieces sold at auction. The mural will be on display at Bonhams from Nov. 2 until the auction on Nov. 13.
The Haring Foundation, which is Keith Haring’s legacy and acts in his name, is not completely happy with the decision to sell a public work of art for the highest bidder. “We are disappointed. This mural was not meant to be owned by a collector. It was meant to brighten a room full of children,” said Mr. Vazquez, of the Haring Foundation. The foundation hopes the mural pieces end up in a museum where the public can still enjoy and consume the artwork, as it was intended. It brings up a long debated issue of whether or not public artworks should ever be sold to private buyers. It calls into question what exactly Haring himself would have wanted for this piece. Does the work still have the same value if it is taken out of its original environment, which one could argue is vital to the experience of a work like a mural?
Either way, the Haring Foundation is grateful to The Ascension Church for preserving the mural. The work is an incredible example of Haring using the world around him as a canvas for his creativity. He was known to draw on any surface – walls, subway cars, the ground – in chalk and ink in a graffiti-like style. He was somewhat of a local celebrity in New York City in the 1980s, and frequently didn’t leave any sort of signature on his works because he didn’t need to. “It would’ve been ridiculous for him to sign it,” Mr. Mallon, the Grace House director said of the mural in the stairwell. “Everybody knew who he was. We all watched him do it.”