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Discussion by David C. Ward, co-curator of “Hide/Seek” and Historian at the National Portrait Gallery.

In the midst of the AIDS crisis, the poet Thom Gunn said he never thought there was a " ‘gay community’ until the thing was vanishing." In 1990, 18,447 Americans died of AIDS. The artist Keith Haring would be one of them, passing away on February 16, 1990, at age thirty-one. Haring had vaulted to public prominence as a graffiti artist whose comical and mysterious cartoons started appearing randomly in New York City’s subway system and led him to mainstream fame in the art world. The sketchy, skittering nature of his drawing is worked into this painting, but the structure of the unfinished work gives it a formal weight. The hanging strings of the unfinished painting suggest not just incompletion but unraveling.

"Hide/Seek: Difference and Desire in American Portraiture" was on view at the National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution, from October 30 through February 13, 2011

For more on the exhibit, visit the exhibit website at: http://npg.si.edu/exhibit/hideseek .

Keith Haring (1958-1990) Acrylic on canvas, 1989 Katia Perlstein

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