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Avant Garage.

A new exhibition of the late Keith Haring's works inspired by the pounding music of the Paradise Garage disco reveals the artist's most homoerotic--and playful--side

The multicultural gay '80s nightclub the Paradise Garage, ground zero for the New York house music scene and the inspiration for world famous contemporary dance parties like the Sound Factory and Body & Soul, is having its moment in the sun. Last fall, Strut Records released the CD Larry Levan Live at the Paradise Garage, and owner Mel Cheren detailed the club's colorful history in his book My Life and the Paradise Garage: Keep On Dancin'. And now through February 2001, Deitch Projects in New York City and the Keith Haring Foundation are presenting a show of Haring's works influenced by the Paradise Garage, where the late artist spent most of his Saturday nights between 1984 and 1987.

Haring's friend and former assistant Julia Gruen recalls, "[The Paradise Garage] was a big influence on Keith's social life. That's where he met DJ Larry Levan and other players in the club scene--most infamously, Madonna--who became some of his closest friends. He always said that the ritual of going every Saturday was like going home to be with his family and his tribe." Gruen, who now administers the Keith Haring Foundation, explains that the club also fed the artist's interest in black and Latin urban culture and New York City street life. "Studio 54 was never Keith's scene. He was very downtown, very St. Marks Place, and very much influenced by the graffiti movement."

Of the 40 or so works on display at Deitch Projects, only a few black-light murals and two columns painted for a Grace Jones performance were actually created either in or specifically for the Paradise Garage, but the club's culture was clearly an influence. "You can see very specific break-dancing moves in these works." says Gruen. "Also, Keith always worked to music, and he was consumed by the kind of music that was playing in the club." What is also apparent in this particular show, which contains some of Haring's lesser-known, more sexually graphic work, is that the Paradise Garage was a place where Haring celebrated his sexuality.

Several pieces on display have never been seen before, including a series of humorous acetate drawings of Brooke Shields in her '80s "Nothing comes between me and my Calvins" Calvin Klein jeans campaign--to which Haring has strategically applied several erect penises. As Gruen explains, "Lots of galleries are not interested in showing Keith's more sexually explicit work, mostly because it's not as recognizably hard-edged, graphic-line Haring, but we decided that if we were going to show work from his Paradise Garage days, these works should be homoerotic, if not explicit, because that was a big part of Keith's world and what made him happy."

Michael Musto, nightlife columnist for The Village Voice, thinks the sexuality of Haring's work inspired by the Paradise Garage might be more symbolic than literal. "People weren't having sex in. the balcony like at Studio 54, but Paradise Garage's DJ Larry Levan would send the crowd into orgasms on the dance floor. People literally got off dancing, which was an ecstatic experience there in and of itself." However, the predominantly black and gay crowd at Paradise Garage no doubt provided Haring with a playground for his artistic and sexual interests. As Musto observes, "Keith Haring was totally into hip-hop culture, as an artist and as a gay man, so the Paradise Garage really was paradise for him."

Find more on Keith Haring and the Paradise Garage at

Che is the author of Deborah Harry (Fromm International).
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Article Details
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Author:Che, Cathay
Publication:The Advocate (The national gay & lesbian newsmagazine)
Article Type:Brief Article
Geographic Code:1U2NY
Date:Feb 13, 2001
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