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Keith Haring: The Political Line

Guests tour the new Keith Haring exhibit, "The Political Line," during a special event at the de Young Museum in San Francisco on Nov. 5, 2014. The exhibit opens to the public Nov. 8th.

“The Political Line” is the first show to look at Haring’s art from a social justice perspective, grouping his work by themes like racism, capitalism and consumerism, the growing, questionable use of technology in everyday life, the treatment of those suffering from HIV/AIDS, the suppression of individual freedoms, and environmental devastation.

Sarah Rice

“For the first time, Keith Haring can be understood in a new way and in the way he actually worked, and that was he was very political,” says Dieter Buchhart, curator of the exhibit. “He was very much engaged in many of the relevant questions and issues of his time.”

"Untitled" from 1982, one of the signature paintings of the exhibit, hangs behind Buchhart. It shows a figure, outlined in yellow and red paint, breaking a stick. According to Julia Gruen, director of the Keith Haring Foundation, the painting is "about fighting against oppression. It’s about bucking the system."

Sarah Rice

The exhibit features more than 170 pieces—which includes 136 works of art by the artist and 34 pieces of archival material—including large-scale paintings on tarpaulins and canvases, sculptures, and a number of the artist’s subway drawings.

Sarah Rice

A detail of "The Last Rainforest."

Sarah Rice

Haring’s 1984 piece, "Untitled (Apartheid),” became an important fundraising tool for the anti-apartheid movement.

Pierre Antoine

In “Silence = Death,” from 1988, figures cover their ears, eyes or mouth inside an upside-down, rose-colored triangle. A pink triangle patch was used to identify gay men in World War 2 concentration camps and later re-appropriated by activists as a pro-gay symbol in the 1970s and to fight AIDS in the 1980s.

Haring often broached the question of commercialism and capitalism in his work, as can be seen at the de Young exhibit in a rarely shown work from 1985, “Andy Mouse.” In it, he depicts close friend Andy Warhol as a bubble gum-colored Mickey Mouse, set on a green background with yellow-and-black dollar signs floating around him.

Sarah Rice

Keith Haring stands in front of a section of the Berlin Wall that he painted in October 1986. The Berlin Wall came down in late 1989. Haring died from AIDS-related complications in 1990 at age 31.

Read full story and watch video about "The Political Line"

Elke Bruhn-hoffmann / AP