BY Frieze News Desk in News | 10 OCT 19

Keith Haring’s ‘Crack is Wack’ Is Back

The late New York artist’s famed ‘anti-crack painting’ in East Harlem has been undergoing restoration since the summer

BY Frieze News Desk in News | 10 OCT 19

Keith Haring, Crack is Wack, 1986, New York. Courtesy: Getty Images/Corbis; photograph: James Leynse

The restoration of Keith Haring’s iconic Crack is Wack (1986) mural in New York is approaching conclusion, according to the city’s Parks Department. The painting has been undergoing a months-long restoration – undertaken by the artist Louise Hunnicutt, supported by the Keith Haring Foundation – since the summer. That process of resurfacing areas damaged by age and elements, using stencils of Haring’s original designs, is now approaching completion.

The piece originally dates back to the summer of 1986, when Haring first illegally painted the fluorescent orange mural in an abandoned handball court in East Harlem. The artist was inspired by the crack cocaine epidemic in New York and failed attempts to break his studio assistant Benny’s own addiction.

‘Inspired by Benny,’ Haring said, ‘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.’

Although Haring was initially arrested for vandalism – and the mural defaced – the artwork’s positive message and widespread media attention resulted in the painter being let go with a small fine. The Parks Department later commissioned Haring to produce a new mural.

Best known for his politically-charged, monumental paintings featuring UFOs, glowing babies and barking dogs, Haring passed away in 1990 at the age of 31, from Aids complications. ‘The mural is a lasting reminder of Haring’s art, which continues to instruct and inspire through its wit and vibrancy,’ said Jonathan Kuhn, NYC Parks director of arts and antiquities.