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Haring’s Altar Piece

When the late great Keith Haring finally succumbed to feeling the sickness of HIV, he made one last art work. In January of 1990, just one month before his death, he created this piece in an unlikely subject for him- religion. The massive bronze 5 x 8 triptych altar piece is finished in white gold leaf, and shows scenes from the life of Christ- in classic Haring figures. It weighs a heft 600 lbs and is an edition of 9 with 2 APs (others are in museums). His iconic baby figures become an infant Christ  held in a series of arms. But instead of the usual Birth of Christ serenity, Haring’s piece feels angry (and reminds me of the violence of the dead  in Jan Van Eyck’s “Last Judgement”), with the witnesses to the birth seeming to move with flailing arms and clenched fists. But I suppose this aggressive feel is completely understandable, coming from the last moments of desperation before Haring new HIV/AIDs would get the better of him. In that, the piece is very, very sad to me.

Image ©GlennBelverio

Image ©GlennBelverio

Saint John Divine itself is the suiting venue for Haring’s last piece. It is the largest cathedral in the world (St. Peters Basilica is bigger but not a cathedral), and was built in the early 1900s. It is also known for its interfaith tradition and acceptance, dedication to art (they hold modern exhibitions) and non-religious community workshops (like an annual reading of Dante’s Inferno)- all the makings of the perfect venue for Haring’s last piece to live on.

Who: Keith Haring

What: The Life of Christ

Where: The Cathedral Church of Saint John Divine, 1047 Amsterdam Avenue

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