Saving Keith Haring Down Under
Melbourne work is last surviving wall painting by the late artist’s own hand
By Emily Sharpe. News, Issue 214, June 2010
Published online: 08 June 2010
LONDON. “It’s the only permanent thing that I did while I was in Australia,” said the late US artist Keith Haring, after completing a large-scale mural in a Melbourne suburb in 1984. Now the city’s cultural community is banding together to preserve the country’s last surviving large-scale mural by the artist—and the last in the world painted entirely by his hand. Representatives from the National Gallery of Victoria (NGV), the Australian Centre for Contemporary Art (ACCA), the city of Yarra (the inner Melbourne municipality where the mural is located) and the University of Melbourne recently organised a public forum to garner support for its restoration.
Haring painted the mural on the wall of the former Collingwood Technical College at the instigation of John Buckley, then director of ACCA. He invited Haring to Australia and co-ordinated “temporary”, large-scale mural projects at the National Gallery of Victoria and the Art Gallery of New South Wales, and Haring undertook several smaller mural projects. The Collingwood mural, which features a series of Haring’s characteristic dancing figures as well as a massive caterpillar-like monster, was the first of his murals created using a cherry-picker. This device allowed him to work on a far larger scale and its success led the artist to seek other equipment such as cranes and window-washing scaffolding in the execution of other murals.
According to ACCA curator Hannah Mathews, when the mural was last stabilised in 1996, it was estimated that a tiny sum of A$200 ($178) was needed annually to maintain the work. A combination of factors including pollution and time has left the mural in its current degraded state. Some estimate that it could cost around A$25,000 ($22,000) to stabilise, with an additional A$1,000 ($900) a year for maintenance. Although the issue of whether to re-paint the mural is up for debate, all parties agree that the work needs stabilisation as soon as possible to prevent further surface lifting and cracking of the paint.
In 2004, Yarra successfully lobbied to have the mural added to the heritage registry. Noting that the building is owned by the Victorian State Government and that the mural is listed, Mathews said: “It is our own government who has lapsed in its duty of care.”
NGV curator Ted Gott said that the murals Haring created during his trip “were important testing grounds for his subsequent and famous works on equivalent or larger scales worldwide; and as such, are seminal to both artistic development and future global fame”.
Yarra mayor Jane Garrett said: “The mural is a part of Yarra and inner-Melbourne’s cultural and physical landscape—and we want to ensure it stays that way.” She added: “Following the forum, [the] Council [is setting up] a working group, which will seek to include representatives from Skills Victoria, Heritage Victoria, the arts community and other stakeholders, to discuss the mural’s future and come to a consensus on the most appropriate way to preserve it.”
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