Conservation Australia

Saving Keith Haring Down Under

Melbourne work is last surviving wall painting by the late artist’s own hand

Haring's 1984 mural, "the only permanent thing that I did while I was in Australia" the late artist once said

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.”

Haring at work in Australia
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3 May 12
20:57 CET


The mural in Collinwood is nearly faded away. If it not restored soon it will vanish. To my unqualified restoration opinion the mural looks relatively simple to preserve. Otherwise in acouple of years will Be unreconisable

27 Feb 12
15:9 CET


I am one of the art students who worked with keith at collingwood tech. on his mural, keith would have wanted his work saved as it was intended to be australia's only permernent work

2 Dec 11
22:45 CET


It was I that contacted john buckley about painting the mural at collingwood tech .At that time I was a teacher there 7 saw the request for another wall for keith to paint on . Some students & I painted the backdrop for keiths mural over 1 weekend The paint & other equipment was provided by john buckley . There is a large book about keith &on the back page there ia photo of myself & students watching keith work

18 Jun 10
15:7 CET


FWIW, I remember 3 'Harings' in total being painted in public places around Melbourne, this one, one small one near Richmond train station, which was quickly defaced by other graffiti artists, the third who's exact location escapes my memory.

11 Jun 10
15:54 CET


I am stunned that you are unable to find information about Keith Haring, who is one of the most well-documented, famous artists of the latter part of the 20th century. You might try reading his published diaries, contacting the Keith Haring Foundation, or exploring one of the dozens of books written about him.

11 Jun 10
15:54 CET


You obviously didn't try very hard with your research. There are many biographies and monographs, as well as exhibtion catalogues. His time in Australia is also well documented in these texts. I thought it was well know (from my time studying art history) what a seminal figure he was in 20th century art scene?!?

9 Jun 10
20:50 CET


Having studied Haring's work for an essay in a first year art history class, I can't recall finding much information on the artist, and even less, if any, information stating he had been to Australia even. * These murals prove that they are records of an artist's life and work, and as such it makes me feel that their importance is great (to artists, historians, biographers...?) (As a side note, it could be an idea for those deciding how and what to do regarding the restoration process to consider Haring's 'Pop shop' and his take on art and its accessibility/ownership...and even the nature/history of mural work itself... Perhaps the artist would be supportive of creative ideas that bear (& create) relevance today.....) *(Of course, this could also have to do with other factors such as accessibility of books and other material (on my part) on the artist at the time)

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