Artist Spotlight: Keith Haring
Keith Haring & Zine Culture
Described by the work’s consigner, Daniel Durning, as demonstrating a “freer… more pure Keith,” Untitled (1982) is a unique copy of Keith Haring’s (1958–1990) first art zine. According to Durning, who attended the School of Visual Arts (SVA) with the artist, Haring was selling his “little books” at a Leo Castelli Gallery opening. Durning asked Haring to sign his copy, but upon noticing that the cover had been assembled backwards, the artist spontaneously drew him a new cover in felt-tip marker.
Durning says that this was before Haring had become “mega-anything,” and that both the book’s contents and its impromptu cover art reveal Haring’s playful character. While Haring would go on to create more mass-produced objects, such as those found at his Pop Shop in Soho, this early zine was printed in two limited editions of under 500 copies. Despite its more rarified nature, Haring’s engagement of the zine format showed his budding interest in producing accessible art that robustly “communicate[d] and contribute[d] to culture” by “breaking down the barriers between high and low art.”
The zine, short for fanzine (a combination of the pop culture fans that created them and the magazines they juxtaposed), first emerged in the early 1930s as an outlet for readers of science fiction pulp to air their feelings for the increasingly popular genre. Though there were very few structural rules within the medium, zines generally circulated with fewer than 5,000 copies, were the product of a single person or a very small group of people, and, as they were intended for pleasure and not profit, could be obtained for free or at a very low cost. Zines came to be characterized by their melding of political commentary, literary art, music journalism, and graphic design. This format offered a grassroots platform for amateur writers and artists, many of whom would go on to become respected practitioners in their fields.
In the late 1970s, increasing access to Xerox machines and copy shops led to a further proliferation of the zine, notably within the punk subculture, where reviews of albums and shows often lent bands cult status. Amongst “disaffected youth,” zines established critical communities “meant to disrupt” profiteering media outlets. Some argue that beyond circulation size, the zine designation is most indicative of its author’s outsider status, as it offered a vibrant media channel for “subcultural scenes.” Within this vein, there was also a long-standing practice of zines offering alternative spaces for expression to queer creators and audiences, who otherwise lacked representation in popular media. Some of the oldest queer zines included Der Kreis (The Circle) and Physique Pictoral, which were first published in 1943 and 1945, respectively. Haring’s interest in undermining the conservatism of the 1980s, especially as it pertained to the suppression and stigma surrounding the queer community, led the artist to emphasize “his sense of difference” in his paintings and drawings. This undercurrent of alienation rendered his work a natural fit for the zine medium.
Arnold, Chloe. “A Brief History of Zines.” Mental Floss, 19 Nov. 2016, www.mentalfloss.com/article/88911/brief-history-zines.
Cane, Shannon Michael. “Xerox, Paper, Scissors.” Aperture, no. 218, 2015, pp. 46–51.
“Daniel Durning on Keith Haring, 1982, Untitled.” Los Angeles Modern Auctions, 27 Dec. 2019.
Deitch, Jeffrey, and Gianni Mercurio. “His Art Is His Life.” The Keith Haring Foundation, 2005, www.haring.com/!/selected_writing/his-art-is-his-life.
“Keith Haring: The Alphabet.” Albertina, 2018, www.albertina.at/site/assets/files/1799/presskit_keith_haring.pdf.
Wills, Matthew. “Before Blogs, There Were Zines.” JSTOR Daily, 19 Apr. 2018, daily.jstor.org/before-blogs-there-were-zines/.
Yarrow, Andrew L. “Keith Haring, Artist, Dies at 31; Career Began in Subway Graffiti.” The New York Times, 17 Feb. 1990.
Felt-tip marker on ‘Keith Haring’ zine cover
Signed and dated to interior
5.5″ x 4.25″; (14 x 11 cm)
Provenance: Daniel Durning, New York, New York (acquired directly from the artist, 1982)
February 16, 2020 Modern Art & Design Auction