“Kieth Haring: The Political Line:” What of AIDS?

This afternoon, I went to see Kieth Haring: The Political Line. I think I got off on the wrong foot with this exhibit at the very start; one of the introductory wall texts said “…Haring is less recognized for his deep engagement with the social and political challenges of his time…” It’s a very odd assertion; I think of Haring as first a political / activist figure and secondarily an artist. The exhibit is well-done, with some of his most iconic works on display, as well as a nice selection of rarer works (e.g. the subway chalk drawings).

But, by the end of the exhibit, it seemed shocking that there was only a passing mention of Haring’s AIDS activism. It is so shocking that I think I must have missed an entire room or two where the curator(s) went into proper depth, rather than seemingly ignoring it. Although, that speaks extremely poorly of the DeYoung’s efforts in mounting the exhibit that I went through it twice, and didn’t see either where the exhibit continued or the side rooms. Or, alternately, there was a conscious decision to exclude the AIDS work. However, in that case, make it clear somewhere that it is being excluded, rather than making me think it had been overlooked.

In the end, it felt like this was a case of “pink-washing:” an entire room on his anti-Apartheid artwork; a large room dedicated to his anti-capitalist / environmental work, and one token piece of AIDS activism (the stunning pink and silver “Silence = Death”). This isn’t really a case of the DeYoung being prim and proper; there is the great “Manhattan Penis Drawings for Ken Hicks” on display, so this gap is even more inexplicable. I left the exhibit feeling like I got a very specific viewpoint and not necessarily one that was true.