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  HOME | Arts & Entertainment

1980s New York Street Art: Still Relevant 30 Years On

LONDON – Pop art transformed visual language to such an extent that contemporary works could not be understood without it and a London Gallery is marking its 25th anniversary with a show dedicated to this movement.

“American Icons,” an exhibition focusing on the main exponents of New York’s 1980’s street culture has seen the clinical walls of the Opera gallery brought to life with its trademark intense color palettes.

“Keith Haring is the artist that legitimated popular culture and street art such as graffiti to bring it to the galleries and museums all over the world,” Federica Beretta, the gallery’s director, told EFE.

Andy Warhol (1928-1987), who found his muse in celebrity, popular culture and advertising, paved the way for artists like Haring and Jean-Michel Basquiat (1960-1988) who took to the streets to paint the picture of turbulent 1980s New York.

Drugs, the aids crisis, the cold war, the expansion of globalization, high unemployment rates, the proliferation of new technologies, all these seismic cultural and economic shifts triggered an explosion of color and creativity.

Many Europeans and Asians decided to emigrate to the land of opportunities in search of a better life and for artists, in a quest of optimistic and innovative art, the Big Apple became a creative hub.

Haring (1958-1990), who was openly gay, was deeply unsettled by the HIV epidemic, an issue that featured heavily his art which touched on the topics of sex, death and war.

“The recognizable images that everyone has seen, maybe you don’t recognize Keith Haring but you have seen his crawling babies, his barking dogs and his animated cartoon figures,” Beretta added.

One of those barking dogs, which will be exhibited in the United Kingdom for the first time, in its huge format dominates one of the gallery walls and hangs next to another work which is from his distinct graffiti phase.

Opera gallery was not the only space to have chosen to celebrate Haring’s works.

Tate Liverpool recently launched the American artist’s first major UK retrospective.

“American Icons” features many other legends of the pop art movement, such as Warhol.

“Andy Warhol is the father of pop art, the very first person to use everyday objects to transform them into icons of art,” the expert said.

Also featured in the commercial show are canvasses by Tom Wesselmann (1931-2004), figurative artist Alex Katz (1927) and the iconic mobiles by American sculptor Alexander Calder (1898-1976).

The question is how have these works resisted the test of time and somehow managed to continue to feel relevant 30 years on.

For Beretta the answer is obvious, the content of these artworks continues to be relevant in our society: homophobia, racism and drug addiction.

The exhibition will be on show from Jun 21 to July 7, a short period of time for eager collectors to snap up a piece of iconic art history.


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