Monthly Archives: November 2008

Keith is that you? Part 10 – The text, the narrative, and the stories

Keith_Book_1982_detail_ARTology

One of the stories unfolding here is the history of 300 works of art that are being bought and sold on the international marketplace as the “lost” works of Keith Haring. If these works turn out to be authentic works by Keith, then this particular story has great value for the millions of his fans who have undying desire to know more about him and his art. If they are discovered to be fakes, then this series of events constitutes an astounding international forgery on a massive scale.
That story involves the origin of the works, their provenance and accompanying research. It involves as well, how these works happened to come into public view and the fascinating collector, Victor Lallouz, who has in his possession forty-seven of these amazing pictures. Victor is more than a character in these pages. He is an inspiration and shares my collaborative vision.
During my telling of the story thus far, the Estate of Keith Haring has become a part of this narrative as well. The interest of the Estate in these events is understandable and I welcome that involvement. Ultimately, these works will either be authenticated by the Keith Haring Foundation or they will not. Clearly, the Estate and the Foundation have an interest in either outcome. And this in itself is part of the story worth telling, I think.

For me, these stories exist within the context of the relationship I have with Keith Haring, who died in 1990. The nature of this relationship is defined by the time we spent together, discussions, and agreements we had during his lifetime. These are some of the reasons I carry the work forward.

From the beginning, it has been clear that the work of Keith Haring, my own work, and the work of many artists are intertwined and share certain basic concerns – metaphysical as well as practical concerns, for want of better terms. The idea that art is – by its nature – both spiritual and scientific, is tempered by the political realities that surface as symptoms of the cultural context within which artists find themselves. The ultimate realization of this tradition is a kind of fusion of metaphysics and existentialism.

This tradition and these, essentially philosophical, issues are deeply significant aspects of both Keith’s art and my own. This is an important aspect of our relationship and it is pivotal to the project we initiated in the mid-1980s. Our work involves a pursuit of a “key to the mysteries” of art and life.

 

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In addition to the aesthetic significance of re-examining the canon of art history in light of the above considerations, this story is an intensely personal one for me. In 1997, I completed the initial volume of this project, Reading Lies Dreaming. In that text, I come to terms with the basic situation I was left with after Keith’s tragic and untimely physical death. I published the first four chapters of Reading Lies Dreaming in Eschaton Books’ Terminal Journal. Currently, the first seven chapters are available online.

In Reading Lies Dreaming, I report factual accounts of details of conversations and experiences I shared with Keith while he was physically alive. These accounts are documented in pages of news articles and reviews I have published, in hours of audio recordings I made of our discussions, and in written correspondence between Keith and me. The factual documentary material is interwoven with descriptions of dreams that occured after Keith’s death and which continue to this day. The dreams increase when I am writing on the subject – when I am actively working on The Project. I include them for their potentially revelatory quality, as they illuminate interior landscapes.

Now, a decade after I completed Reading Lies Dreaming, I am continuing the text in several media – including this weblog – and under several titles. This was prompted by Victor’s call as documented here, in the first installment of this series. The ensuing entries constitute a new cycle of the unfolding story. By reading, commenting, and by your correspondence, you become a part of it.

Welcome, again, to The Project.

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Image one: Keith Haring, detail from “Keith Haring,” artist’s book published by Appearances Press, 1982.
Collection of Tullio Franceso DeSantis

Image two: Tullio Francesco DeSantis, “Generation 14,” pierced paper, 1977, from the exhibition catalog “Paper as Medium,” Smithsonian Exhibition Traveling Exhibition Service, 1978 – 1980.

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Keith is that you? Part 9

Keith_Studio_1986_AndyMouse_ARTology

“I’m working on this idea for a store. It’ll be totally filled with low-priced art.”
It is early in 1985. We are in his studio. He tells me about the Pop Shop – a way to put his tee shirts, buttons, watches, and pictures in a storefront instead of a gallery – to sell art at prices people can afford.

“Some people will say you’ve sold out, you know. How do you feel about that?”

“People say all kinds of things. They say that about Andy all the time.”

“Yeah, I know. But that’s what his stuff is about.”

“For me,” he says, “it’s just a way of reaching regular people.”

“I know what you’re saying. But at some point, it’s like the artist becomes just…another institution.”

“I’m not really worried about that,” he responds. “You just use what’s available at the time. Good or bad is in how you use it.”

“Well, if anyone can do it the right way, you can, Keith. You have handled fame a lot better than most people.”

*

The examination room is grey-green and dark. The yellowed walls are chipped and paint is peeling. Dampness is everywhere. I’m wearing a soiled white robe. I am incapacitated in some way. My mild-mannered companion – a male nurse – is thoroughly helpful, caring, and sensitive to my increasing distress. I tell him I have a need to relieve myself.

We move through a succession of waste-filled hallways – each one worse than the one we just left. Every restroom we encounter is putrid and filled with patients. As bad as this experience feels, my companion is somehow able to assuage my anxiety with just a smile and a few kind words. I am in a horrifying situation, yet I feel comfortable with him looking out for me.

*
I am walking alone through vast steel and glass airline terminals. Luggage in hand, I am traveling around the world, sending and receiving text messages on the fly. Every message I receive calms me and gives me a sense that life is good. The person I am communicating with is the hospital nurse.

Now I am back home reading e-mail responses from my gentle companion. The correspondence is simple – mundane – and yet whenever I receive a message, a rush of warmth is generated within me. I feel confident and strong.

Dawn is outside in the garden. I walk out to see her – to talk to her.

“I have been communicating with someone for the past several weeks – my nurse in the hospital. I have kept up the relationship because it has helped me feel better about things. He is a gay man. It’s not anything for you to be concerned about. But I thought I should tell you.”

*

Image: Keith Haring studio, with “Andy Mouse” and vases on shelf, NYC, 1986, Photo by Tullio Francesco DeSantis.

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Keith is that you? Part 8

KeithHaringMacysThanksgivingParade_TVimage_460ARTology

 

By 1980, Keith Haring had befriended the newest, most exuberant young artists working on the fringes of the New York art scene. It would be less than a year before he would be discovered by a succession of gallery owners, collectors, and critics. In a few years he would be on his way to becoming one of the world’s most famous artists.

I was his elder by ten years. By the time we met, my paintings were in uptown galleries. A drawing of mine had travelled with an exhibition mounted by the Smithsonian Institution. My work was distributed by the Museum of Modern Art’s Art Lending Service.

Keith wasn’t interested in the established art scene. But he was rapt in his enthusiasm for “underground” art. When I talked about the counterculture of the sixties, he was fully attentive, engrossed in tales of my experiences. He wanted to know about my relationship with Allen Ginsberg. We talked at length about Allen’s participation in the culture of the Beat Generation. Keith had read Howl and other poems by Allen and his compatriots. Jack Kerouac’s, On the Road, inspired Keith to begin his own road odyssey in the same way it had inspired my journeys through the underside of American culture.

 

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Haring was an avid student of the rebel art movements of the 20th century. He was especially interested in the various strands of the subcultures of American art from the 1950s onward. He collected knowledge from the best sources he could find. When he discovered I had personal knowledge of the psychedelic movement, Timothy Leary, the Haight-Ashbury district of San Francisco during the “Summer of Love,” and that my art and writing was published by the Rip Off Press along with many of the underground comics artists of the late sixties and early seventies, he probed my memory like a Crusader after the Holy Grail.

 

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He wanted to know everything. He would constantly draw connections between American cultural history and the stories I was telling. We felt the same sense of personal involvement in the rapid aesthetic evolution of the twentieth century.

We shared a particular mental wavelength. It defined our relationship and made it unique. That bond transcended our differences. It lived until he died. Now, it continues on with a life of its own. It was and it is still called The Project.

*

DeSantis: “What if we could give people a kind of manual or stake out a path for comprehending the hidden messages of art at any time – past, present, or future?”

Haring: “It should be possible to do it. There is this collective wisdom in every culture – and it’s the same things that are being said. It’s more important now, too – because of media. And it always increases.”

“I think we can work it out. I’ve written about iconography in your work in a way that leaves things open to interpretation…”

He finishes my thought: “…instead of trying to make a name for yourself trying to say you know what it means. I don’t even know what it means! I have some ideas but…”

He reminds me of the way people are always trying to read Pennsylvania German symbolism into his work.

“I’ve even denied it to their face when they’ve asked me about it…and they go back and write about it anyway. People think they are on to something and they feel like it’s their job to say, ‘this is what’s it’s all about’.”

*

A long white drawing table separates us. We are in his studio. There’s a frenzy of activity. Assistants are mixing paint. Some friends are playing music – partying in a laid back mid-afternoon way. He is paging through a portfolio of work I’m preparing for my show at Tradition 3000 Gallery. He moves slowly from image to image – giving them complete attention. This goes on for over an hour. The phone rings, people answer it and write down messages. The entire time he doesn’t look up.

When he is finished, he closes the cover, smiles, and says, “Cool”.

Tradition3000_Tullio_Card_1987_ARTology

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Image one: Keith Haring float, Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade, NYC, 2008, videophoto, TFD.

Image two: Allen Ginsberg, untitled poem for Tullio DeSantis, 1985Collection of Tullio Francesco DeSantis

Image three: “Mindstream,” (detail), art and text by Tullio, “Rip Off Review of Western Culture,” Volume 1, Number 3, San Francisco, 1972

Image four: Tullio Francesco DeSantis, card from “New Worlds” exhibition, Tradition 3000 Gallery, NYC, 1987

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Keith is that you? Part 7

Keith_by_Tullio_ARTology7.

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In darkness. Following a red fox. I come to a pile of paintings. I light a match, set the artworks ablaze, and watch them burn. Because I feel the heat I know I am not dreaming. The flare-up illuminates trunks of nearby trees. The ground is dry. In that instant, I fear the fire may spread. A chill shiver shakes me.
He is here…

“Keith!”

Not acknowledging my presence, he picks up a burning image and flings it into the woods.

Looking hard at me, he says, “Why did you do that?”

“Keith what are you doing, man?”

“It’s you doing it, Art. This is your dream.”

It is too late. The fire catches in the place where he threw the flaming picture. He takes another piece and sends it flying. Soon we are surrounded by points of orange fire. I see this all from two vantages, as if I am both beside him and also across a vast astronomical distance. From there, we seem to be vaporous, ghostly, glowing within a constellation of stellar combustion.
*

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Blink. Late November. It is brilliant – early morning. I am on the ridge, stalking, moving southward through flattened corn rows with bow in hand. I am stunned to see the magnificent buck. It is more perfect, symmetrical, beautiful than I can imagine. Bent down – moose-like – he eyes me. I sense his dread. I know why he is here. Wild and sex-crazed, he is following a scent and now he knows he will die.

All this happens so quickly, I do not even notice I am watching him through my sight. I must have raised the bow without thought, brought my hands to shoulder height, drawn a bead on him.

I fake heading left and then right. I anticipate his moves. In that instant I know he is mine. But I am overcome with paralysis. I can’t take my eyes off him and I can not kill him. He senses my hesitation and stands straight, upright. Then he charges forward and passes to my left.

As I count the sharp points of his magnificent antlers, “one, two, three, four, five, six…seven…eight” and as he disappears among the brittle pines, I awaken from one reality to another.
*

Now. I am in your eyes. Within your mind.
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Image one: Portrait of Keith Haring, photo by Tullio Francesco DeSantis.
Image two: Detail of “Split Second,” 1986, Tullio Francesco DeSantis

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Keith is that you? Part 6: Is this the bill of sale for the "lost" Keith Harings?

KeithIsThatYou6_ARTology

 

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Image from the collection of Victor and Sultana Lallouz

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Keith is that you? Part 5

Haring_TFD_Letter_001_ARTology

 

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I am in contact with attorneys for the Estate of Keith Haring. They are requesting I remove the images documenting the work that may be Keith’s. The Estate is taking the position that, as they may not be Keith’s work, they may infringe on the copyright and trademarks owned by the Estate.

While I totally respect Keith’s copyrights and trademarks – the copyrights and trademarks of the Estate – I also hold in highest esteem the public’s right to know and the freedom-of-expression rights of artists, writers, and citizens to tell their stories.

These rights seem to be in conflict in this situation. However, as I have never asserted that the works are, in fact, by Keith, and, as I have stated their need for authentication, I am operating on principles that respect the rights of Keith’s Estate, the public’s right to know, and free expression.

I will continue to tell the story of Keith and me as well as the story behind these extraordinary objects. These are complex and difficult stories. I certainly endeavor to relate them both responsibly and respectfully.

I also desire to work in cooperation and collaboration with the Estate of Keith Haring and the Keith Haring Foundation. I have contacted the attorneys for the Estate with these positions.

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Image: Letter from Keith Haring to Tullio Francesco DeSantis, 1981.
Collection of Tullio Francesco DeSantis.

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Keith is that you? Part 4

Keith_Studio_TFD (1)

 

“…like the cave paintings, forty-thousand years ago…” I say.

“Deep inside the earth, there’s this maze of tunnels. You get to a certain age. You go through this ritual out in the wilderness. Then one night. You’re taken into the cave. Total darkness. Maybe you drink some kind of potion. You’re led through pitch-black passages until you get to this place of fire – light flickering across the walls. You see all these amazing beings – men hunting, animals running, jumping – a wild stampede. You’re totally tripped out. Your eyes are wide open trying to take it all in. It’s like…wow, man, what’s going on?”

“It’s art but it’s also religion.”

*

“Exactly.” he says. “Forever people knew that artists had this…power to make unknown things feel so real – to push and pull people in all these different directions. They had to control it somehow. All the rules and regulations had to be wrapped around this power or people would totally ignore them.”

*

“Right – and just dance around all day.”

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“Yeah ha!”

“It’s always been like that, though…artists stirring up whatever is going on and the people in power trying to control it, trying to channel it and use that power for themselves.”

*

“Or like Michelangelo and the Sistine Chapel. The Pope and all the priests wishing they could give people visions. But all their sermons and preaching don’t do it. It takes Michelangelo to paint these pictures of God and heaven and all of a sudden people for the next five-hundred years get an idea of what the supernatural world might be like…”

*

“Museums are the same thing really.” He says. “You have all these galleries and they feed into this system where people with money and power can manipulate the culture. Eventually though, artists just take it right to the people – which is where it should be – in the streets.”

“It’s like New York, right now. They can’t keep the graffiti writers away anymore. It’s all over the city – it has a life of its own. Wherever you look, people’s tags are everywhere.”

*

“Really man, whole trains just covered with these incredible colors and writing. Where it was just dark and dirty there’s this art everywhere now…just appearing like magic.”

*

“It is magic…magical. This power that’s always here…that has always been here…behind everything…sometimes it’s hidden…then it has to come out. And people are always trying to figure it out.”

“It’s something being said…messages…these mysterious messages…and where they are…where they appear…”

“You’ll just be going about your day, you look up, and there’s this image of a crown that wasn’t there yesterday. And everything looks different all of a sudden. There’s this energy where there wasn’t before…”

 

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That’s how it would go between Keith and me. The ideas would be flying so quickly we would complete each other’s sentences. In dialog like this many of the distinctions between minds are dissolved. A new unity is born – a thing in itself, an entity, a new identity. It is what the project between us was – is – about. I promoted the idea of the communality of aesthetic vision. Haring collaborated with people in unique ways. For us, collaboration began with streams of…ideas.

We talked about everything but we knew that below the surface it was one dialog about two things – art and life – and the many mysteries connecting them. How to say it without losing it, without losing the spirit of it? To make a mark, to say something, to make another mark, to say another thing, to lose oneself in the other…

 

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But what is the essence? What happens when ecstatic moments of personal transformation are recorded? What is preserved? What is lost? Most often, we are left with mere shards of experience, vapor trails, ripples in ponds – vessels whose shapes are shadows in the sunset.

Can the experience itself be transmitted, whole and intact?

Perhaps it can, by understanding the very act of defining the path is what annihilates the experience. To travel with this understanding is traveling simply and lightly. It is to travel with nothing at all. This is what we have.

And this is the project…
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First image: Keith Haring, NYC, 1985. Photo by Tullio Francesco DeSantis

Second image from the collection of Victor and Sultana Lallouz
Third image: Tullio Francesco DeSantis, “WWXIII”, 1980

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Keith is that you? Part 3

Haring_TFD_Eagle

 

It was the first meeting with my students after returning from Montreal. In September I informed them I had a trip coming up concerning an art project and classes might have to be rescheduled. My trip was delayed several times and there was some drama building before I left. Now, I was relaxed and glad to be back.
“We have a few options today,” I said. “I have a video on portrait drawing, we could take a look at your work, or I could tell you about the art project and what I was doing in Montreal.” Not surprisingly, the response from all four classes was the same: “Tell us about the project.”

“Ok, this gives me a chance to practice telling the story in a general way without giving out all the details.” I said. “It’s a story that involves the artist, Keith Haring.”

Most knew something about Keith’s work and of my relationship with him. A few came to class with the occasional Pop-Shop item, Haring tee shirt, or “radiant child” notebook sticker. Some knew he died from AIDS and had been a cultural activist for social and humanitarian causes. Others knew he was born in Reading and had grown up in Kutztown. The students from this area had an increased awareness of Haring’s life and work based on his celebrity status as a local hero.

“For me, the story starts in 1980,’ I began. “I had just returned from San Francisco, where I was working as an artist. I decided to spend the next few years working in New York City and in a few months I had rented a studio loft in Manhattan.”

I told them about my weekly commutes to Berks County where I taught college art and that I was writing on art for the New Art Examiner and the Reading Eagle Company newspapers.

“Around that time, these mysterious chalk drawings were appearing in the subways of New York.” As I spoke I showed images of Keith’s work in chronological order – starting with the subway drawings.

“I found out a young artist who had grown up in Kutztown was responsible for this anonymous artwork. I met Keith at his parents’ place. He needed a ride to New York. We went back together. We became friends. I wrote some of the early stories about him.”

 

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I sketched a brief outline of the conceptual project Keith and I conceived in the mid-eighties and referenced some of the writing I’ve published on the subject.

As the projected images moved forward in time, I talked about the rising star of Keith’s international fame and also the downfall of so many of his generation.

“The New York art scene at that time was one of great joy and artistic achievement. It was also a scene of desperation and devastation.” I said.

“Speaking about that time in my life and of Keith’s life and death is an emotional thing. Shared emotional experience is, for me, one of the most important things about art.”

I shared some of those feelings with my students that day. I hope they hold on to them and pass them on to others.
Having set the scene, I moved the time-frame forward to six months ago and told them about my out-of-the-blue phone call from Victor Lallouz, his astonishing collection, and the ensuing events. At this point they wanted to know more about the work I had seen in Montreal and whether or not it is really Keith’s.
“I saw what I needed to see and I urged Victor to move forward as quickly as possible and seek their authentication.” I said.

A student commented that if they were authentic, it would be big news.

“Just imagine… hundreds of lost Keith Harings, never before seen in public, coming to light now – almost 20 years after his death. That would be huge!” he said.

I agreed and added, “It’s a big story either way. If the work is not authentic – because of its history – it would be a historic forgery. Millions of dollars have already passed between people who have traded parts of this collection.”

I described some of the history of the events surrounding the work, including Keith’s relationship to those involved, an international cast of art-world characters, murder and misdemeanor, loyalty and intrigue, the truth and lies of life and art.

Students lingered as each class ended. Some acknowledged they were deeply moved. Others wanted to shake hands and wish me luck in moving forward, telling the story, and continuing in the collaborative spirit spawned so many years ago. A few said they felt themselves a part of the project with their own lives and artwork.

As I shut down the projector, turned off the lights, and locked the studio, it occurred to me – the essence of Keith’s vision and my own. Filled with energy and inspiration, I walked the open hallway suffused with sensations of living and working in the world – collaboratively, with heart, mind, and spirit, moving toward some profound, ecstatic, and imminent transformation.

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First image: Keith Haring, Untitled, 1981Collection of Tullio Francesco DeSantis
Second and third images from the collection of Victor and Sultana Lallouz

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Keith is that you? Part 2

Keith_Book_Tullio_8_ARTology_A

 

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Keith is that you?

Part Two

My eyelids heavy, I am engulfed by an unstoppable inward slide. I do what I can to hold my thoughts against their imminent dissolution. It is the end of my first day in Montreal. From amid a thousand unraveling streams of experience – the mental detritus of the day – I select key images, insights, emotions and fix them, as if in amber, for examination longer than their spontaneous decay might allow.

Under bed covers at the airport hotel, I peer into the shards of today – five-hundred miles of autumn, big stands of birch, border guards in black garb inspecting my belongings, the concrete maze of Montreal, Victor’s voice, and Sultana’s eyes – I’m drifting now. The two-headed image propped on the top shelf appears in a red and white blaze within me. I see the men as Victor and I engaged in a mysterious intercourse of mind with “K. Haring” snaking below.

The sharp lines of Keith’s signature and imagery incised like brainwaves pulse forward and fill my inner gaze. The men are joined by a third. His boyish features and brilliant eyes appear. He is here in the room – before me.

Five-hundred miles from home – a nation north of the town of our birth – Keith and I meet in a dream. What is truly strange is that this is not strange to me at all. This is where I have lived since he died – perhaps since the first day we met. Or perhaps it is the only place – a shifting dreamscape of chance and coincidence where there is no difference at all between what is art and what is life.

 

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“I’m glad you’re here, Art,” he says.

“Where, Keith – in this world of dreams where I’ve been lost for almost 20 years since your death?”

He says, “20 what? Since my…what did you say? We are right here now. You know this.”

I’ll tell you what, man” I say to him. “I know less today than I did back then. And now I’m faced with work that looks like yours. It looks like the stuff in your studio that first day we traded work. Remember that day, Keith? It looks like work I sorted through when you said, ‘Take whatever you want.’ ”

“Art. Just listen to me. I’m here for one reason. Because…you know…you are the one who knows…”

“Knows what, Keith? I just said I have no idea about this stuff. It’s not even my business if that work is or isn’t yours.”

As I speak to him this way my feelings change. I am overcome by sadness.

“You’re telling the story, Art.” He says. “I knew you would. But that’s not why I’m here.”

He ages rapidly – right before me. In an instant his hair grays, nearly vanishes. Years of wrinkles course like fine veins through his angelic countenance. He stands, weaker now, less sure of himself. He speaks slowly – his voice thick with emotion…

“I’m here because you are the one…who knows…I am not…a dead man.”
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First image: Kaith Haring: drawing on the inside cover of Tullio’s copy of the catalog from Keith’s exhibition at the Tony Shafrazi Gallery, New York, 1982; collection of Tullio Francesco DeSantis

Second and third images from the collection of Victor and Sultana Lallouz

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Keith, is that you?

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I took the stranger’s call. His voice was deliberate, a deep and sonorous blending of world cultures – American, French-Canadian, Hebrew, and Moroccan. His words evidenced a lifetime of practical, aesthetic, spiritual living. I experienced this message as a wake-up call to the timeless place of art and spirit within my mind and heart

He read my words, he said. More importantly, he had read the words I transcribed from dialogs between myself and my friend, Keith Haring. He introduced himself as a collector who had in his possession dozens of works of art that, by amazing circumstance, were said to be from a secret collection of hundreds of pieces executed by Keith in the early to mid-1980s.

His account of the history of the works and how they came into his possession was replete with astounding, yet credible, detail. Each time I asked a pointed question, sharpened by my own knowledge and experience of Keith’s life and work from that period, the responses were sound.

Purchased three years ago by a tripartite partnership that has since been dissolved – the works divided among the three men – my caller’s part of the collection numbers near fifty works of art. They possess a well-researched and documented provenance indicating they may very well be from the hand of Keith Haring. And they have never been shown before!

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The caller, Victor Lallouz – a filmmaker, art researcher, and collector – had read my account of the collaborative work Keith and I had initiated in the 1980s. I was an early writer on Keith’s art and Keith acknowledged my work held certain qualities he valued. After an extended period of personal and professional interaction, we conceived a collaborative project and, in 1985, I received a grant from the Pennsylvania Council on the Arts to initiate the work.

And now, decades later, Victor Lallouz was informing me that he had been researching The Project on the Internet and was moved to make contact. We agreed to be in touch and bade each other farewell. My mind whirled with the absolute surrealism of the situation.
Shortly afterward, Victor sent me a photo of one of the works. And within a few months, I received images of his entire collection – a stunning group of fantastic artworks filled with the early iconic images of Keith Haring. I have also traveled to Montreal to see a selection of the work for myself. A bond has developed between Victor and me. He is a true collaborator.

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The process of having these astonishing artworks authenticated by the foundation that bears Keith’s name is beginning. Now, the story of the collection – in all its revelatory potential is being told. This is a wild and stormy story of trash and transformation, love and loss, pleasure and dissolution, suffering, recovery, and potential redemption. It is a narrative of freedom and responsibility defined and confined by art history and post-modern global events – an evolving story whose ending is still unwritten.

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Images from the collection of Victor and Sultana Lallouz

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