Saturday, November 8, 2014

Comfortable with Keith Haring’s Cocks

Not wanting to wait a moment longer, I went to see the member’s preview of Keith Haring: the Political Line at the de Young yesterday.  It’s the first major museum exhibit of his work in 20 years and it’s marvelous.  Seeing Haring’s work big and bold and in person has much more impact than the ubiquitous greeting cards and calendars we have known for the past two decades.  The show also reminds us that Haring’s work went beyond the “safe” pieces we are familiar with (see greeting cards and calendars).  His work was political, leftist, sexual and queer.  Currently the de Young is filled with room after room of cocks.  There is even some cock sucking right at baby stroller level – and note, it is not fellatio, it’s good ole all American cock sucking!  I can imagine the “Liberal” mommy blogger crowd in San Francisco will be expressing their outrage as soon as they see it. 

Now to be fair, the de Young website does warn us:
Please note that the exhibition contains certain artworks that are adult in nature; images included on this site may be violent, sexual, and/or political in content.”
It’s curious that we have to be warned in San Francisco about political content.  I was perplexed when the de Young’s curator Julian Cox wrote in the companion book and is quoted in the information panel on the wall as saying:
 “Haring had an uncomfortable relationship to the politics of Reagan-era America.”  
Really?  I don’t imagine Keith Haring was uncomfortable – I am sure he knew right where he stood.  I suppose, like so many of us, Haring hated Ronald Reagan and the cabal that put him in power.  Hating the devastating economic policies that still cripple our country today, hating the murderous foreign policy killing thousands of innocent people in Central America, hating the pandering to religious fanatics and hating the ambivalence and criminal negligence when dealing with the AIDS pandemic.  Keith Haring’s blood is on Ronald Reagan’s hands.  If anyone feels uncomfortable here, it might be the rich who control our art museums with their hand picked curatorial staff.  Not all of us have forgotten and acquiesce to historical revisionism surrounding Ronald Reagan.  Many of will never forget or forgive.


But back to happy thoughts – the show is amazing and beautiful and needs to be seen again and again.  Of course you will exit through the gift shop, which I have to say, disappoints.  It’s back to a world of Haring’s safest images commoditized on coffee mugs, greeting cards and refrigerator magnets.  What I really wanted was a magnet version of The Great White Way (seen above), the original is 14 feet tall, but I’d be comfortable with an 8” magnet version on my refrigerator door.

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