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Thursday, August 1st, 2013

Capturing Keith Haring’s Dynamism for $5.99

Art Intelligence: Keith Haring for iPad 2

Cover image for the Keith Haring app for iPad 2
Cover image for the Keith Haring app for iPad 2

In May 2013 the app publishing company Art Intelligence released Art Intelligence: Keith Haring, a decidedly comprehensive and dynamic app designed exclusively for iPad 2.  The program’s introduction screen, in an essay entitled The Politics of Dancing, notes that Haring was a follower of the Warholian tenents of mass-production. This was first evidenced in the early 1980s in ephemeral chalk drawings in New York City subways in which he employed the black paper used to cover old advertisements as canvases for his iconic visual vocabulary.  Today the wide availability of Haring watches, coffee mugs, and even cleaning supplies speaks to this same interest—perhaps then to be able to download a piece of Keith Haring is the logical next step.  Haring opened his Pop Shop in 1986 making his iconography available to the denizens of downtown Manhattan, but now not even geography can preclude the digital consumer from getting a piece of Keith.

The app’s “curator” Bridget L. Goodbody describes Art Intelligence: Keith Haring as a “visual Wikipedia on steroids,” and she has a point: the energy of the 1980s art scene is reanimated through a virtual library of photography, video, and artwork that the user is invited to explore.  The app successful skirts the line between accessibility and political and art historical investment; clearly designed for adults, the descriptions are often wordy and sometimes academic, though younger users could appreciate the app equally for its incredibly comprehensive catalog of artworks and archival photos.  In this way, the app mimics the accessibility of the artist’s own work—Haring created a collaborative mural project with public schools in Chicago in 1989, and his famous 1986 “Crack is Wack” mural was designed for children, painted on a Harlem handball court.  His later focus on socio-political themes such as AIDS prevention and Apartheid in Africa birthed (sometimes pornographic) works obviously designed for adults, but his cartoonish visual vocabulary has always lent itself to young fans.

Screen image of select books, film, and music from the "Resources" section of the Keith Haring app for iPad2
Screen image of select books, film, and music from the “Resources” section of the Keith Haring app for iPad2

A virtual gallery of Keith Haring’s art is presented through detailed high-resolution reproductions.  Organized chronologically, the user is invited to browse a massive selection of the artist’s paintings, sculptures, and murals.  These works are then searchable via the “Timeline” tab, which is divided into the broad categories of “life,” “art,” and “world” providing a social and historical context for the artist’s work. To gain a more comprehensive understanding of how Haring and his art were at the forefront of public consciousness, each artistic milestone can be clicked on for more information. For instance, in 1985 Brooke Shields posed nude for photographer Richard Avedon with a Haring-painted pink heart.  The caption for the image reads: “Nothing Comes Between Me and My Keith.”  Haring was at the forefront of a scene that dominated downtown Manhattan, and his ties to major players in fashion and music, in relation to his cartoonish subway drawings, created an instantly recognizable visual iconography.  Also in 1985, Haring produced his Free South Africa poster for the concert where Dionne Warwick, Diana Ross and Hall and Oates sang “We Are the World;” a video of the performance is available via YouTube on the app.

The “Connections” tab is organized by themes such as “art,” “birth,” “Africa” or “AIDS.”  The user can maximize each image to see a short blurb: I stumbled upon a 1987 episode of the Oprah Winfrey Show entitled “Lets Talk about AIDS.”  The “Resources” tab includes links to a selection of film, music, and literature that the creators feel is somehow relevant to Haring’s work.  Toni Morrison’s Beloved is listed for purchase alongside Paris is Burning, a 1990 documentary about ‘80s drag ball culture in New York City, and Duran Duran’s 1982 album Rio.  These choices are thoughtful, and while many address a historical relationship, a work such as Beloved (set 100 years before Haring’s birth at the end of the American Civil War) speaks instead to the artist’s commitment to visual representation of marginalized groups, a trope which is often schematized in Haring’s early work, which shows dogs, human figures and aliens in the same scene.  Perhaps the least useful portion of the program, at least currently, is the “Conversations” tab, which touts itself as “a forum to express your ideas to fellow art geeks.”  In this early iteration there are few conversations to be had, though in our era of digital anonymity and polemical web boards the prospect of sparking debates and sharing experiences is encouraging.  Fittingly, Art Intelligence: Keith Haring has a feeling of dynamism that recalls Haring’s own playfulness, as well as his simultaneous emphasis on stylistic consistency alongside innovation.

Image of the "Timeline" section from the Keith Haring app for iPad2
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Close-up image of Cruella de Vill (1984) by Keith Haring from the "Gallery" section of the Keith Haring app for iPad2
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