Keith Haring’s style of art is one of the most recognizable in the world. The American-born contemporary artist was known for his bold drawings and paintings and continue to be popular even after his passing. Exhibitions of Haring’s work attract audiences of all ages around the world. The Art Gallery of Ontario opens Keith Haring: Art is For Everybody the largest exhibition of his work to land in Canada to date.

Over 120 drawings, paintings, sculptures, and archival materials are on display at the AGO. The scale of his work is awe-inspiring to see through the Contemporary Galleries on the 5th floor.

The AGO worked with the Keith Haring Foundation to create this stunning exhibition of his work. Gil Vazquez, Executive Director and President at Keith Haring Foundation in New York, one of Haring’s closest friends visited Toronto as the exhibition was ready to open.

Vazquez mentioned at the press preview that Haring’s artwork was not always placed in museums. In fact, he had always believed that art should also be accessible to the masses. He was known to take his art to the streets and into public places. He produced hundreds of public drawings in New York subway system and Haring also took to streets globally.

“The public needs art, and it is the responsibility of a ’self-proclaimed artist’ to realize the public needs art, and not to make bourgeois art for the few and ignore the masses. … I am interested in making art to be experienced and explored by as many individuals as possible with as many different individual ideas about the given piece with no final meaning attached. The viewer creates the reality, the meaning, the conception of the piece.” ~ Keith Haring

The exhibition celebrates Keith Haring’s creativity and  activism. It also offers insight into the artist as a person. Haring’s archival materials play a key part in understanding what inspired him and acts as a thread not just through his art but his activism. Haring participated in anti-nuclear, anti-Apartheid demonstrations, and AIDS activism.

Keith Haring - AGO - Toronto

The exhibition also shares  his collaborations, his community from the club scene to his social life. He was friends with others in the art scene including Jean-Michel Basquiat, Kenny Scharf as well as musicians, and performers like Madonna. There’s an image of the pop star when she performed Dress You Up and Like A Virgin at Haring’s birthday party in New York. She as wearing a custom jacket and skirt created by the artist. She posted the image on her social media on May 26, 2021.

Keith Haring - AGO - Toronto

Beyond his famous paintings and drawings, Haring also experimented in video installations and performance arts. A few are included in this exhibition.

“Nothing is important…so everything is important.” ~ Keith Haring

Haring also cared deeply about children globally. Many of his murals in public spaces were created for charities, hospitals, and daycare centres around the world. He also taught hundreds of children how to draw.

Keith Haring was diagnosed with AIDS in 1988 and passed in 1990 at the young age of 31. His Foundation was created with a mandate to provide funding and artwork imagery to AIDS organizations and children’s programming.

There are many well-known works at this exhibition including the Tree of Life, The Great White Way, a space dedicated to his Day-Glo art collab with LA II (Angel Ortiz), vases, metal works. There’s also a collection of flyers and invites he created. Then, the Pop Shop room dedicated to his interest in making his work accessible. It was something I was really interested in learning more about.

“Here’s the philosophy behind the Pop Shop: I wanted to continue this same sort of communication as with the subway drawings. I wanted to attract the same wide range of people, and I wanted it to be a place where, yes, not only collectors could come, but also kids from the Bronx. The main point was that we didn’t want to produce things that would cheapen the art. In other words, this was still an art statement.” ~ Keith Haring

KEITH HARING: Art is For Everybody is now open through to March 17, 2024. I would recommend setting aside 2 hours to go through it all. The exhibition is pretty remarkable and there’s a lot to dive into for both fans and those who are just discovering the artist.  If you have more time go and also check out the new KAWS: FAMILY exhibition at the AGO.

Most museums and galleries in our city have a free admission night. AGO is FREE admission for everyone Wednesdays from 6 pm to 9 pm. Also, if you live in the city, an annual pass is only $35 for adults. If you’re 25 years of age and under you can also nab an annual pass for free.