A monumental image that has not been seen for over a decade will be at the heart of Bonhams New York’s upcoming Post War & Contemporary Art sale on May 15. Untitled, 1983 (estimate upon request), by the late Keith Haring will be auctioned for the first time at the event. The striking and provocative piece bears witness to the age – reflecting both the artist’s beginnings in street art and, as a member of the gay community, his preoccupation with the AIDS epidemic during the 1980s.
The work is playful and yet deadly serious. Mickey Mouse stands at its centre in an unusually provocative pose, alluding to the dangers of unprotected sex, and is surrounded by figures that are a recurrent theme in Haring’s art – the angel, dog and dancing figures. “It’s a truly exceptional work by the artist – exuberant yet serious, striking and radiant,” says Muys Snijders, international director of post-war and contemporary art at Bonhams. “This multifaceted vinyl tarpaulin stands as a definitive example of Haring’s work and shows his commitment to playfulness while challenging its viewers.” Haring, who was heavily involved in gay rights and AIDS activism, painted the huge tarpaulin (which is nearly 0.92sq m) on October 29 1983 and the following year it was displayed at the Venice Biennale’s Aperto ’84 (Open 84), before moving on to Rome. Haring was closely associated with the Italian gallerist Salvatore Ala, who owned the piece for many years.
Haring is not the only big name to appear in the auction. Winnie Fung, a 1989 oil, plates and bondo on wood by Julian Schnabel, is representative of the artist’s multimedia approach, featuring broken ceramic plates set into the work. It has an estimate of £140,000 to £170,000. Spirit of Glasses (1975), a collage, pastel and ink on paper by the Japanese artist Yayoi Kusama is estimated at £31,000 to £46,000 and stems from the period when she returned to Japan, suffered ill health and voluntarily submitted herself to a hospital for the mentally ill where, aged 90, she still lives today.
Another very important work is Chocolate Eclair by Wayne Thiebaud, dating from 2002. Known for his brightly coloured depictions of everyday objects of American life – lipsticks, paint cans, ice creams – this piece is indicative of his style and is estimated at £540,000 to £770,000. Sturtevant’s Warhol’s Flowers (estimated at £46,000 to £61,000), dating from 1968, is another signature piece from an artist who made it her business to investigate authorship, appropriation and originality.