Monday, June 17, 2024

The ‘Keith Haring: Radiant Vision’ exhibit is the artist’s first solo show in Long Beach—and that’s important

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Continuing into what could largely be considered his most explosive presence in pop culture since his death, “Keith Haring: Radiant Vision” at the Long Beach Museum of Art marks the famed artist’s first solo show in the city—and it is not just a cultural bookmark for Long Beach but is reverberating throughout the museum world because “Radiant Vision” could arguably be the most intimate exhibition of the artist’s work to have been shown this century.

“Keith Haring: Radiant Vision” hosts over 240 works at the Long Beach Museum of Art

Running from May 25 through Aug. 25, “Keith Haring: Radiant Vision” can be overwhelming in its breadth, scope, and intimacy: Garnering most of its pieces from two private collectors in New York City who were friends with the artist, “Radiant Vision” spans paintings, drawings, sculptures, magazine covers, advertisements, polaroids, lithographs, silkscreens, embossed papers… There’s even a piece of a drawing Haring had done on a dinner napkin.

To call it “intimate” is simultaneously underscoring and under-valuing the exhibition’s deep dive into one of the most influential queer artists of the 20th century. And for many queer men—like Ron Nelson, Executive Director of the Long Beach Museum of Art—the exhibit itself can be daunting, emotionally charging, and sublime.

“When I walked through it, I got emotional,” Ron said. “Even our highest donors were simply blown away by the depth and reach of the exhibit.”

Those familiar with his work will find wonderful examples of his most known images—from his political propaganda calling for a free South Africa to his work exploring male-to-male sexuality during the peak of the AIDS crisis to the stamps he created for the postal service—but those new will likely join a growing chorus on Haring lovers that have recently discovered the artist.

“Keith Haring: Radiant Vision” is but one part in a contemporary renaissance for the late artist’s collection of work

Whether it was the massively popular “Art Is for Everybody” at the Broad, marking the artist’s first solo exhibit in Los Angeles, or “Keith Haring: Radiant Vision” are in Long Beach, Haring is having a renaissance with his newly minted audience of Gen Zers and older folk alike.

And it makes sense: His graphical style fused art, pop, and politics in a way that made Andy Warhol a dear friend to Haring while also creating a mass amount of commercial success melded with high-brow respect. That work ethic—courting popularity and youthful politics with critical ego-stroking—attracts the youth while wrangling the wallets of the elders. He forced, through the symbolism of art, to talk about the things no one wanted to talk about, all the while dancing to a very happy ka-ching tune that allowed him to take his messaging to the masses in a time where social media and the internet didn’t exist.

“Haring was a young gay man interested in codes and telegraphing to the underground in ways that couldn’t necessarily be read by the mainstream,” Toronto-based artist Scott Treleaven told The Globe and Mail. “If you look at the way that Keith used his hieroglyphs to talk about AIDS in a time when you couldn’t even get a PSA on television to save people’s lives, it’s astonishing.”

And it wasn’t just AIDS, the very disease that took the artist’s life in 1990 at the age of 31. Haring took on racism, child welfare, cultural imperialism, sex, religion, cops, war, and more in his art, an unabashed spirit who loved to love and make art.

That power is appealing in a time when queer people are being silenced, LGBTQ+ rights are vocally criticized and outright trying to be dismantled by public officials, and questions of authority and skepticism with the government are at an all-time high.

“Everything I pick up is Keith Haring, Keith Haring, Keith Haring,” Ron said, noting that Brad Gooch’s “Radiant: The Life and Line of Keith Haring” has been the curator’s bible during the creation of this exhibit. “He is having a moment and a deserved one at that—and it’s really great to share that with the community; his resurgence and everything he represented is as powerful now as it was in the 1980s.”

The Long Beach Museum of Art has been having a contemporary renaissance when it comes to the art it shows and how it shows it

Ron’s tenure over the Long Beach Museum of Art has proven wildly successful on many fronts—from the uptick in quality at the museum’s restaurant, Claire’s, to the uptick in quality of exhibitions—but it is perhaps Ron’s securing of contemporary art that has really highlighted how he has moved the museum into the 21st century.

And that could probably be exhibited no better than through the museum’s “After Dark” tradition, where instead of stuffy exhibit openings, music, drinks, food, and networking meld with the exploration of a given exhibition’s opening—and the first After Dark, which welcomed an exhibit of street artists to accompany the inaugural Pow! Wow! art festival (now Long Beach Walls), exemplified the power of the museum’s newfound attachment to the new.

“It really marked a turning point for the museum,” Ron said of the opening of “Vitality and Verve” in conjunction with Long Beach Walls. “And since then, I’ve really tried to walk the walk: A museum does, yes, hold precious objects for us to historically look at—but also, especially here in Long Beach, it needs to be a part of and celebrate the community. And that includes its connection with contemporaneous art and culture.”

This has resulted in cultivating current CSULB art students by providing them spaces, showcasing artists like Haring, and enveloping the museum in a constant back-and-forth between the past and the future.

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This exhibit? The perfect tie-in when it comes to exemplifying that ideology.

“Keith Haring: Radiant Vision” opens at the Long Beach Museum of Art, located at 2300 E. Ocean Blvd., on Saturday, May 25, with a ticketed opening event. For tickets, click here. The exhibit runs through Aug 25, 2024.

Brian Addison
Brian Addison
Brian Addison has been a writer, editor, and photographer for more than a decade, covering everything from food and culture to transportation and housing. In 2015, he was named Journalist of the Year by the Los Angeles Press Club and has since garnered 25 nominations and three additional wins. In 2019, he was awarded the Food/Culture Critic of the Year across any platform at the National Arts & Entertainment Journalism Awards.

1 COMMENT

  1. Absolutely buzzing to see this. I saw his exhibit “Against All Odds” in Arlington, TX back in 2019 which was phenomenal and this will be the next one I’ll get to see. Incredibly stoked!

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