Keith Haring made his first public mural in 1982 at Houston Street, New York. Since then to the time of his death, seven years later, he produced murals in various cities such as Berlin, Paris, Pisa and Barcelona. In a figurative style characterised by wide black lines to highlight the figures, his murals contain all his iconography: children, life, sex, death, and in the last years, his fight against AIDS.
Haring’s mural in Barcelona was created in an almost fortuitous manner. On 22 February 1989, on his way back from Madrid, Haring met his friend Montse Guillén, owner of the restaurant El Internacional in New York. When Guillén suggested the possibility of making an intervention in Barcelona, Haring accepted on condition that he could choose the site. The Town Hall promptly gave all the permissions, and Haring selected a square in the Raval, then a seedy area known as the Barrio Chino. Haring chose a wall littered with syringes at Plaça Salvador Seguí, between Carrer Robadors and Carrer Sant Pau. He said it reminded him of the marginal neighbourhoods in New York where he began to paint. Although Haring said in his Journals that he painted the mural on 24 February, press reports from the time and a video documenting the action indicate that it was 27 February. Two days later he left the city.
Although he was a highly-valued artist, Haring painted the Raval mural for free. He painted it on a buttress against the wall of a dilapidated building and his Journals claim he began working at midday, finishing five hours later. ‘I spent five hours doing it, as I had planned. The wall had a strange inclination that made it difficult to paint, but one of the things I like about this work is the (physical) adaptability it requires. I found a posture that allowed me to paint in a homogenous, balanced way. Some of the best photos of this mural reflect the body language and postures I adopt when painting it.’ In the mural, a syringe is being strangled by a large snake with a name on it: AIDS. A couple forming a pair of scissors cut up the animal and someone puts a condom on its tail. It is painted in one colour, red, the colour of blood. Haring ends the mural with an inscription in Spanish: Todos juntos podemos parar el SIDA (Together We Can Stop AIDS).
The fate of Haring’s public murals is varied. Some have been preserved, others not. Given the state of the wall, the Raval mural was conceived as an ephemeral work. After a while, it was ruined by environmental degradation and human interventions such as additional graffiti. Moreover, the building was affected by the Special Plan for Interior Reform in the Raval: it was going to be demolished. Shortly before the implementation of the plan, the City Hall reached an agreement with the artist’s heirs and MACBA whereby the surface was transferred to a new support, preserving the original paint. A restoration team hired by the Ajuntament de Barcelona began the process of transferring the mural in September 1992. The transfer was later deposited at MACBA. A proposition to move the entire wall stone by stone was discarded due to its state of disrepair, and because the option was seen as having an archaeological character that went against the spirit of Haring’s original work.
Since then, MACBA has reproduced the work twice: in November 1996 and two years later in 1998. On both occasions, the copy of the original graffiti was reproduced for a few months on a concrete wall outside the Museum: the wall that links Carrer de Ferlandina to Plaça Joan Coromines. In February 2014, coinciding with the 25th anniversary of the creation of the mural by Haring, the work was reproduced on the same exterior wall with the approval of the Keith Haring Foundation, the Ajuntament de Barcelona and MACBA.
Keith Haring producing the mural 'Todos juntos podemos parar el sida' (Together we can stop AIDS), 27 February 1989, Barcelona. Photo: Montse Guillén
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Keith Haring with Montse Guillén. 27 February 1989, Barcelona
While there are ideas about psychological and emotional developmental processes held within the sculptures I make, the things themselves are actual physical explorations into thinking, feeling, communicating and relating.