Next month, a mural by Keith Haring will hit the auction block at Bonhams. The mural is quintessentially Haring and in the early 1980s, the artist painted it in one night on the walls of a New York convent’s youth centre named Grace House.
Haring’s murals rarely began with a sketch or any preparatory work. For Grace House, their mural was among the most spontaneous as Haring arrived at the building soon after he befriended Grace House workers. Without measuring or prepping the walls, he took to them with a can of black paint and a brush. At the base of the three-floor stairwell, Haring began with a radiant baby before working his way up the stairs with a series of 13 figures covering 85 feet. Gary Mallon, who was the director of the youth centre at Grace House, watched with a crowd of people as Haring worked. At the time, Mallon was in his early 20s and he was the person who given Haring the OK even though he hadn’t informed anyone else, including the parish owner. ‘I was a nervous wreck because I thought, “Oh my God, what’s going to happen when my bosses see this?”’ Mallon told The New York Times. In the end, no one seemed to mind.
The work includes some of Haring’s most iconic figures like a barking dog, two conjoined people with a hole in their torso, and corkscrew figures. He played off the features in the stairwell working around a plaque that commemorated the founder of Grace House turning it into a waving figure. At the top of the stairs, Haring painted a figure diving into the doorway at the top, which, at the time, was Mallon’s own apartment. ‘That’s you,’ Haring told Mallon.
Since Ascension Church, who owns Grace House’s building, plans to sell it, the figures have been cut out of the stairwell walls and now feature as 15 individual pieces. The collection of fragments are the first Haring mural to ever come to auction and between November 2nd and 13th, the pieces will be on view at Bonhams. On the 13th, the sections of the mural will be auctioned off together and hold a presale estimate of $3 million to $5 million. If sold, Ascension Church hopes it may reside in a museum for many more to see, though this is out of their control, and that some of the proceeds might also go to the Keith Haring Foundation in addition to church needs.
Even the kids who came to Grace House nearly always recognized the artist whose work became a staple in the New York City street culture. The work spoke to children, which is why the Keith Haring Foundation isn’t exactly pleased that the mural is set for auction. ‘This mural was not meant to be owned by a collector,’ said Gil Vazquez, president and acting director of the Keith Haring Foundation. ‘It was meant to brighten a room full of children.’
Although they don’t have the blessing of the foundation, Mallon hopes that the work will continue to inspire young people as the money from its sell will also benefit the church that housed the work for so long.