An icon of Pop Art and the graffiti culture of the 1980s, Keith Haring was also an activist during the AIDS crises. Before he himself died of AIDS-related complications, he painted murals all over the city as a way to give back to the community, and bring awareness to health-related issues. Though his paintings on canvas sell at auction for upwards of $1 million, anyone with a Metrocard in New York can see his work in person, for free. Here we've put together a guide to all the places murals still exist in New York city. The next time you're in town, be sure to check them out!
WOODHULL MEDICAL CENTER
760 Broadway, Brooklyn, NY 11206
Over the course of one week in 1986, Haring camped out in the lobby of Woodhull Medical Center, creating a massive, 700-foot-long mural, and signing autographs and making drawings for passers-by during his breaks. The altruistic artist gave the mural to the medical center as a gift, thanking them for the hospital's dedication to pediatric AIDS research and treatment. Today, you can take the M train to Flushing Avenue in the Bed Stuy neighborhood of Brooklyn, walk a few steps into the hospital’s lobby on the corner, and see the mural that continues to brighten the days of thousands of patients and their families.
THE LESBIAN, GAY, BISEXUAL & TRANSGENDER COMMUNITY CENTER
208 W 13th St, New York, NY 10011
With the invitation from curator Rick Barnett, fifty artists painted the interior surfaces of the LGBT Community Center in Greenwich Village in 1989, in honor of the 20th anniversary of the Stonewall Rebellion. Keith Haring was one of those artists, and he was given free reign ver what was then the men’s restroom on the second floor. The result was one of Haring's most risqué murals, and though Haring rarely titled his work, he called this mural Once Upon a Time as a celebration of the pre-AIDS crises way of life. The mural remains on view at the center, along with a slew of other preserved works by artists like Nancy Spero, George Whitman, Martin Wong, and Barbara Sandler.
CARMINE STREET POOL
1 Clarkson St, New York, NY 10014
This West Village swimming hole has quite the backdrop: a 170-foot long Keith Haring mural on a wall that connects the pool area to the James J. Walker Park handball court. The mural, which depicts mermaids, dolphins, and other aquatic creatures, was painted in 1987. It was restored by the Keith Haring Foundation in 1995. Take a dip this summer and check out this blue and yellow mural—just remember to bring a combination lock (see the Parks and Recreation website for more details on what not to bring to New York's public pools).
CRACK IS WACK PLAYGROUND
E 128 St (2 Ave & Harlem River Drive), New York, NY 10035
Arguably Haring’s most legendary work—and New York’s most iconic mural—is the double-sided “Crack is Wack” painting. Haring made this piece in response to the city-wide crack-cocaine epidemic of the late ‘80s. More specifically, Haring’s studio assistant Benny became addicted to crack, and Haring was frustrated with his inability to get proper help without health insurance. Haring was quoted saying that he was “inspired by Benny, and appalled by what was happening in the country, but especially New York, and seeing the slow reaction (as usual) of the government to respond, I decided I had to do an anti-crack painting.” Haring painted the mural in a day, and after it was finished, he was arrested by police. But instead of facing jail time and a large fine—which was what Haring was initially looking at—he got away with no jail time, a $100 fine, and a slap on the wrist, due to the national publicity he, the mural, and the crises received. After the mural was defaced and then painted over, the parks department asked Haring to paint a new mural with the approval and assistance of the city. So, although the mural, viewable from Harlem River Drive, is not the original painting, it’s certainly an original Haring—and its message rings loud a clear as a reminder of Haring’s legacy as an activist and inspiration.
THE CATHEDRAL CHURCH OF ST. JOHN THE DIVINE
1047 Amsterdam Ave, New York, NY 10025
Though this last one isn't technically a mural, it is a publicly accessible Haring work that is definitely worth seeing in person. It's located in the Chapel of St. Columbia of the gorgeous Cathedral Church of St. John the Divine, the largest cathedral in the world, in the Morningside Heights neighborhood of Manhattan. This cast bronze triptych is a very special one; it was the last artwork Haring made before his death at the age of 31, due to AIDS related complications. Though he had never worked with clay before, Haring used a loop knife to carve his line drawings out of clay slabs, which were then cast and turned into an edition of nine. Haring's friend Sam Havadtoy was once quoted saying, “The images came directly from his head. He never stopped to rethink the line; he never edited himself and never made corrections. The lines he carved in the clay were seamless, flawless.”