Thursday, March 8, 2012

Haring Bathroom

Yesterday the recently restored Keith Haring mural "Once Upon a Time" was opened for public viewing at the LGBT Community Center on West 13th Street.


Center site

The mural was painted in 1989 on the walls of what was then a men's bathroom. "Completed months before he died of AIDS," writes the Center's website, "this mural is perhaps Haring’s most personal and resonant expression of sexual jouissance."

That jouissance means you won't see the likes of it being reproduced on any Houston Street walls--the work is chock-full of penises and sperm.



The fairy-tale title speaks perhaps to a lost innocence and sexual freedom dashed by the AIDS crisis.

To walk into the Haring Bathroom is to enter a monochromatic fun-house of fucking. Anything goes. Above white toilet tiles, curling around water pipes and ductwork, headless male bodies twist and entwine with giant phalluses. Tiny men shoot from the ends of penises to splash soggily onto the backs of other bodies.



Penises grow human heads with mouths that suck the toes of other human shapes that in turn contort into Mobius-strips of sucking, performing Escher-like convolutions as one body part morphs into another. Negative space becomes positive. Hollows turn into solids that penetrate other hollows--assholes, mouths, and other unnameable orifices.

A ceramic sign in the wall insists that you "wash your hands before leaving this room."



The Haring Bathroom will be open to the public until the end of March, when it becomes a meeting room again.

On March 30, the Center will wrap up their month of Haring events with a free screening of the 1990 documentary Drawing the Line, followed by a panel discussion featuring the artist's friends and contemporaries who "will offer their memories about Keith Haring, the 1989 Center Show, the East Village scene, and the art world that once was."

15 comments:

JAZ said...

The greatest thing about that is how symbolic it really is of our times in this city. Here was a guy who came to NYC for all of the right reasons - he wanted to participate in the culture of NYC, it afforded him the environment to be himself without discrimination, and he loved the city for what it was, not how it could serve as a fancy backdrop for some bastardized, over sanitary, parentally funded urban adventure. He needed NYC, and NYC needed people like him to need her. He came here and enhanced the culture and spirit of NYC, and left it a better place for his having been here. This bathroom is beautiful, in that, like you said, it cannot be bastardized, copied, and neutered for consumption for the beautiful people. Haring was a true New Yorker no matter where he came from. This is why I hate when people say "oh, you just hate anyone here from somewhere else." That is absolute bullshit - there are people who embody the spirit of New York who are born somewhere else, and they end up here because this is where they belong. I love every one of these people. Guys like you Jeremiah, Marty, and many many others care about her, love what she is really about, and make me happy that you are here. There are others here because they could not live as who they truly are in their home town, for a variety of reasons, and just want to live and be part of what this place was all about, pre hypergentrification. I love these people too.

But then there are the others - who have come here to purchase cool, and experience gritty Bowery life in a converted flophouse with a mint on their pillow and all the amenities that keep their hands clean. The fact that they have become more important to NYC in the eyes of the past couple of administrations says everything we need to know about where we now find ourselves.

Sorry for the rant - thinking about people like Haring and Phillip Retzky make me happy, but very sad and angry at the same time for what is happening to us.

Marty Wombacher said...

Great post Jeremiah and a great comment from JAZ, I'm honored you included me in it!

Anonymous said...

1st Keith Haring work I've seen that isn't trek. Which is not to say he wasn't very important to art/culture/the neighborhood/the period, but provenance and quality are two different things.

Anonymous said...

So succinct. Eloquent. Love that. Not a rant. Thank you.

Anonymous said...

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Anonymous said...

Now this really says it - JAZ. It's that delicate balance of how to articulate this --what for many is hard to explain/articulate -- element of New York and this total WTFication/ condofication, etc. and how it is indeed different from other shifting times/changing of the city. For the zillionth time I feel like I don't have a handle on why up to about the late 50s/*maybe* early 60s? there seemed to be a healthy mix of classes, groups, etc. and yes there was always rich and poor, but the working classes, middle classes, waiter/waitress classes, the people who worked in record stores or coffee shops classes - how they could even work part time AND live in the 'hood they worked in. I have read every explanation out there but nothing really does it for me. About the late 60s, right, is when we start hearing about people -- in the grandest sense in ny -- being pushed out in the 'east village' by artists..right? anyway, it hurts my head trying to wrap around it but it really pisses me off that someone who is a secretary could live in the 'east village' and work at a dental office a few blocks away and not have to work 150 hours a week. i'm not even being very articulate here but hey, JAZ started it.

Jeremiah Moss said...

thanks JAZ--you said it all, and very eloquently.

Yojimbot said...

Cock a doodle do!

Frank Jump said...

I'm so glad they preserved this bathroom. I was with Keith for most of the day when he started it, since there was a big art installation that day and my friend Adrian Kellard was also contributing. Adrian was too shy to meet Keith so I introduced them and they hit it off. As Keith stood on the ladder, I caressed his KS lesions on his leg. Keith was such a gentle soul. We went back to the club years when I'd run into him on the subway platforms at 3 or 4 AM and I'd watch for cops as he did his thing on black paper backing where ad space for billboards was prepared. I guess I should have been taking one or two. Haring's work is a perfect example of how the graphic illustration can be used to educated, inform and persuade.

glamma said...

Really beautiful post Jeremiah, thanks for that.

Casey said...

Apparently the Brooklyn Museum is opening a Keith Haring exhibit on March 16 that will run through July. It's a good time to start appreciating Haring!

Anonymous said...

Amen, JAZ, amen.

Brad said...

Thank you for this post, Jeremiah, and also for your response, JAZ. Hopeful and mournful at once.

LIBERATION said...

Beautifully stated JAZ.

Beaulieu4008 said...

The Center didn't preserve the Haring bathroom as he conceived it. From the subject matter, one can see that Haring was responding to the specific site of his painting--a functioning public men's restroom. When the Center renovated, the urinals, toilets and stalls were removed, and the space was converted to an anodyne meeting room, robbing Haring's work of its context. Yes, the Center left the actual paint marks that Haring made. But they destroyed the complete work. What pathetic short-sightedness. I expected better from my community. Beware the Center's long-term plan to build on the outdoor garden space.....