Keith Haring's life and career were cruelly cut short by the AIDS epidemic; he died in 1990 at the age of 31. Yet Haring continues to have wide-reaching influence in the worlds of art, design, fashion and commerce. While he is known for his graffiti art, murals and paintings on canvas, Haring also made sculptures of his cartoonish figures that were placed in playgrounds and outdoor spaces.
"King and Queen" was produced three years before his death. It is an unusual sculpture for Haring. He shuns his habitually bright and playful color palette for the rust-colored patina of Corten steel. The King and Queen – who resemble figures taken from a giant chessboard – are intertwined in a tender and permanent embrace. Despite the solidity of the steel structure, the sculpture’s many openings make it seem light. Perched here at a summit of the Donum Estate, it encourages viewers to look through it to the vineyards and the other sculptures beyond.
Born and raised in Pennsylvania, Haring moved to New York at the age of 19 and studied painting at the School of Visual Arts. He quickly found himself drawn to the graffiti all over New York subway stations, and began adding his own, despite repeated arrests. His cartoon figures were so distinctive that a book of photographs of them was published in 1984, making Haring into something of an art-world celebrity in his twenties. His playful figures started appearing on nightclub walls and MTV sets. In the mid-1980s, he took up oil and acrylic painting and sculpture.
Haring was often taken to task for the perceived commercialism in his work – particularly when he opened the so-called Pop Shop in 1986, which sold merchandising featuring his art. Yet he was also politically engaged, addressing issues such as crack addiction, AIDS and the fight against Apartheid in South Africa.
"The role of the artist in any society is to be a kind of antagonist, especially in a conservative society or a politically oppressive society, which is increasingly what we're living in all the time," he explained.
"If you love life, if you appreciate life and humans, then you should be against anything that's going against life and against people," he said. "It's partly a responsibility, but partly also a natural response to seeing something that's wrong and wanting to say something about it or do something about it."