Monthly Archives: December 2008

Keith is that you? Part 0: Are these early works of Keith Haring?

The following pictures represent most of the artworks said to be by Keith Haring that are in the collection of Victor and Sultana Lallouz of Montreal. In previous ARTology entries I have laid the foundation for several narratives surrounding these artworks. Within this context, I am presenting the images without additional comment. It is my hope they will inspire those who love Keith and his work to join in this ongoing journey of collaborative inquiry.

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These paintings constitute a portion of 300 newly discovered artworks said to be by Keith Haring that are being bought and sold on the international art market. Whether or not they are actually by Keith is a significant aspect of ongoing ARTology entries.

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Images: Collection of Victor and Sultana Lallouz

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Note: Essential details of the story behind these artworks appear in Part 1 and
Part 10 of this series of ARTology blog entries.

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Nothing Dies, Part 2: Beatitude

“Nothing dies…it all just goes in circles.”
-Keith Haring to Tullio Francesco DeSantis
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“Big Bang,” 2008, by Tullio Francesco DeSantis

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Drawing by Allen Ginsberg, 1994
Collection of Tullio Francesco DeSantis
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Keith Haring, chalk drawing (detail), 1982
Photo by Tullio Francesco DeSantis
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Art comes into the world as dreams issue forth in the mind.

Acts of creation share an underlying inspiration. They are the product of perception, cognition, and emotion – acts of world-changing will.

Within the continuous procession of inspired artists from cave painters to multimedia masters, poets and writers, playwrights and performers, there exists deep philosophical kinships. These affinities connect practitioners of the arts in ways that reveal deep truths about relationships between things as disparate as life and death, reality and illusion, physics and metaphysics.

A superluminal energy of endless and ecstatic renewal animates the poetics and aesthetics of Beatitude. In my life I have been the companion of many creative, spiritual, philosophical, and scientific persons. In retrospect, it is clear Keith Haring and Allen Ginsberg were the most beatific creatures to have touched my personal universe. And upon reflection, I see they serve as reminders for me that we issue from a single energetic source – a brilliant and joyous unity in which we all participate. It is the ethereal substance of life, love, peace, and good will.

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Keith is that you? Part 12

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Last week, I had occasion to visit with James Carroll. I drove to Kutztown after my morning classes and parked across from the New Arts Program headquarters on Main Street.

I have written several pieces on James and the NAP. He is a wonderful literary character and simple description is all it takes to etch an accurate image of his presence in one’s mind. Here is what I wrote about him over a decade ago in Reading Lies.
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“He doesn’t just look old. He looks ancient. His full beard is mostly gray. His glasses are held together by yellowed Scotch tape. And no one, except perhaps his wife, has ever seen him without the dilapidated canvas cap he wears pulled tightly over his forehead. For that matter, I’ve never seen him without the same pair of faded blue-jeans and gray sweatshirt he’s wearing today. As I gaze at him, bent over a light box, sorting through at least five-hundred slides that have been on the same table for years, I silently acknowledge his vitality and enthusiasm. Perhaps “ancient” is too strong a word. Dawn always refers to him as “timeless.”
Indeed, James has been an icon at the university for decades. He’s past due for retirement but he will probably hang on forever. He has created a contemporary art world here in the middle of nowhere. The procession of significant artists who have participated in his program is legendary.
James is a personal link to Keith. His presence was formative in the development of Keith’s awareness of the world of contemporary art, and more specifically, the New York art scene…*
*Our initial meeting was held at Global Libations, a nearby coffeehouse and organic restaurant. We met again later in James’ office. The agenda was set by an e-mail response I sent to James regarding a question he posed. It referred to the authentication process for the artworks purported to have been created by Keith Haring that are now in the hands of several collectors in Canada.
I indicated a need to set a few ground-rules regarding our conversations and that I would be requesting confidentiality on several points. However, most of what we discussed was historical, newsworthy, and not confidential. From that point the arc of our chat was quite mutually illuminating, I think. Afterward, I asked James if I might share the results of our meeting with my readers and he agreed. I will tell that story in installments here as part of my ongoing montage of memory and experience.
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TFD: “So James, I want to start out saying I’m disappointed the first contact I received from the Estate and the Foundation was from a Madison Avenue law firm rather than a personal contact from someone whom I know among Keith’s family and friends. I mean, I’m only ten miles away.”
JC: “They didn’t know anything about it until now. It’s a big organization. I’m sure I couldn’t count on both hands the number of times this sort of thing has come up.”
TFD: “Not 300 pieces, James. That’s a huge number. And it came from me. I started writing about this here, in a personal way – a small way. For me it’s about a friend, a member of a family I respect, mutual friends, you know.”
JC: “They just didn’t know. I’m sure the letter just went out automatically. Really, I’m sorry about that.”
TFD: “Thanks. I understand. I do. But it points out something about what’s become of Keith’s legacy. It’s something I warned him about when he started to become famous. It was just too predictable. What started as a series of defiant acts by a young rebel turned into a big-money image-conscious institution.”
JC: “I know. He didn’t want it to be that way…but then…he died.”
For emphasis, James raised both hands in an abrupt gesture indicating finality and inevitability.
TFD: “Well, my interest in these works is personal, historical. In the very early ‘80s – when I first visited him – Keith’s studio was filled with work. I mean piles of it – on the floor, up against the walls, on every conceivable surface – cardboard, oak tag paper, posterboard.”
JC: “I know. He just worked all the time with any medium he could get his hands on.”
TFD: “Right. And where are those pieces? They haven’t been shown in anything near the numbers I saw there in his place. What happened to them? These pieces I saw in Canada have that look, James. That’s all I’m saying. It’s a fascinating moment right now. I can’t say how long they will be available for review. The original collection of three hundred pieces has been broken up a few times already. First, there were 189 between three collectors, then we had access to less than 100, and right now, there are just these forty-seven pieces. At some point, any or all of them of them could be sold and kept in a vault for another 20 years. This is a window of opportunity.”
JC: “Well, Just keep it open – as long as it’s in the form of a question.”
James leaned over in his chair, focused more intently on the conversation. He shuffled the papers on the desk looking for something to write on. He asked me some direct questions, which I answered directly. We decided to continue the conversation at a later date.
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I begin anew to feel the reality and humanity behind this art-historical story. It is a personal, local, story for us. Here in Kutztown, Pennsylvania – where Keith grew up with his family; where he and Kermit Oswald went to high school, shared a studio; where they encountered James Carroll and the art of the twentieth century, where I first met Keith in his parents’ home – I feel compelled to convey the truth and lies of the relationship between real-life, small-town-America and the world of big-city international art and culture.
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TFD: “So there was this amazing young genius we knew – as a friend first. And we had this experience of seeing what happened to him as he became a part of history.”
JC: “Well, he kept moving on. There was only so much for him here. He exhausted it and went on to this small school in Pittsburgh, then to New York – some time in school there – he learned some things but it couldn’t hold him. He went out from there to have a dialog with the rest of the world.”
TFD: “Yeah, by the mid-eighties I saw the influence Andy Warhol was having on him. I didn’t think that was the best thing, ethically, and I told him so. But that was just going to happen. Always underneath he was this different person – still the person we knew from here – he became a pop star but we knew him as this deeply feeling person.”
JC: “He was always quiet and reflective with me.”
TFD: “He was treated by the art scene as a pop phenomenon, a product, a money machine. But the Keith I knew wasn’t a wild party person. He was a deep-thinking private individual who was really very different from the people he was hanging around with. I saw him as lost in that world and that world just consumed him.”
JC: “And then when he was living with AIDS…he felt his body falling apart…from inside…and no one seemed to care about that.”
TFD: “I always felt a real sadness about what was happening to Keith…it was an amazing brilliant time but it was also – and ultimately – a time of tragedy.”
As I turned to leave, I passed on to James a very personal and private message from Keith that I hold very close to my heart.
It is a message of love.
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Image: James Carroll, photo by Tullio Francesco DeSantis, 2008

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Whatever you think is real… Part 1

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“I’m not sure I believe anything. Everything is, like, what you think you believe.” -Keith Haring to Tullio Francesco DeSantis
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Keith and I are on the road somewhere between Kutztown and New York City.

TFD: “There is a place where people meet when they dream. I first visited one night many years ago and since then it has become a familiar place to me.”

KH: “That’s a cool idea. What happens there?”

TFD: “It’s a place to be together, look in each others’ eyes, smile, and talk about things – the nature of things. At first, it was just weird, man. But everyone acted like old friends. They said they had been waiting a long time for me to get there. “

KH: “Like a coffee house or opium den?”

TFD: “Heh heh, yeah I guess so.”

KH: “There are so many different realities.”

TFD: “So many different illusions.”

KH: “When I think of things I used to believe…I was searching for what to believe in but nothing really answered it.”

TFD: “I’ve focused my life on that. It seems like you have too. We are at two poles of the same generation. I don’t know, man. It’s like all these movements throughout history…people searching for what’s real…”

KH: “…making up these stories, believing they have the truth, forcing other people to believe the same things.”

TFD: “I studied science, philosophy, and religion. After all of that, I decided it was art that had the best way of getting at whatever truth there is. I was doing art all along and it made more sense than anything else. Hard to explain to people though.”

KH: “Yeah. It seems like a separate thing because it doesn’t really use words but it’s semiotics – a language made of signs and symbols.”

TFD: “Especially in the twentieth century, with Dada and Surrealism, artists used art as an instrument for discovery. States of mind, consciousness, dreams, reality, and illusion became the subjects of art.”

KH: “Back to dreams. I think we were here before. Where are we anyway?”

TFD: “Somewhere in New Jersey. I go this way sometimes. In fact I have to go now. How about you?”

KH: “Yep.”

I pulled over to the shoulder and we continued our dialog by a barbed wire fence.

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Image: Keith Haring: Installation view, Tony Shafrazi Gallery, NYC, 1982
Photo by Tullio Francesco DeSantis

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Nothing Dies Part 1 – The Clock Towers, the Pillars of Flame, and the Heart of the Galaxy

 

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“Nothing dies…it all just goes in circles.” -Keith Haring to Tullio Francesco DeSantis

In a mountainous place, a river divides a city. There, a vast battle is engaged. On either side of the valley, two brick towers rise above the din. Near the apex of each tower, a huge clock projects outward at the endpoint of a cylindrical structure.

Time stops as a naked man perched over one of the mammoth timepieces draws a calligraphic message upon the brick-and-mortar cylinder housing the clockwork. The teeming battle below freezes in place. A procession of monks chanting in slow motion is the sole activity which continues. His message complete, the man expires upon the turret.

Action resumes. Looking across the valley at the calligrapher’s corpse, I find myself poised on the other tower. I know what is about to occur. I know I will duplicate the act I have witnessed and that I will die when it is done. I feel no fear – no fear.
I welcome death. I am aware of knowing something the others do not know. At this moment however, the nature of this knowledge is a mystery to me. It is sufficient that, as a result of possessing it, I do not fear certain death.

Again, time is stopped – the movement of the soldiers as well. I move with the lethargy of somnambulance. The monks’ laconic chant fills the space. I create white ciphers with a long brush. I experience death.

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I focus upon the central cone of my vision. There is nothing on the periphery but a blue haze. Dawn and Mia are with me in our home. They point out the places where white flames burn suspended above blue floors and rafters. I tell them not to worry because my companion and I are watching the flames and even though they are getting larger they are not burning anything in the house.

I move from room to room, checking conditions. Earlier, when we determined there was no danger from the fires, I had instructed my companion to get some sleep, as he was weary from his watch.

The flames grow faster now – reaching from floors below to rafters above. Concerned, I decide to wake my companion. When I reach the attic I see he is already awake and I say I am reassured he is acting so responsibly.

We are lifted up above the house. It is consumed within a star-like ball of blue-white incandescence. I want to go back and rescue Mia and Dawn but my friend tells me not to worry because he is dreaming and we are just characters in his dream. It occurs to me I knew this was a dream the moment I realized I would die on the clock tower. This is the reason fear held no grip on me.

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We are traveling, Keith and I, through the night sky. Soon, I see the cratered lunar landscape at our side. A few saccades and we pass the horizons of Venus and Jupiter. As I gaze backward, I see the astronomical bodies in triangular alignment joined by the small blue ball of planet Earth – the conjunction is squared.

Beyond the orange-hot sun and its centrifugal family, we fly through interstellar space. This is where it becomes clear…the universe is composed of…nothing at all.

“This is what dies,” he says.

I respond, “Is that why we are here?”

As he nods his head, I note in the distance a concretion of infinitesimal luminous points – just a few at first, then more and more come into view – as something issues from nothing. Through the vacuum I sense our direction is toward Sagittarius A and the center of our galaxy. There, where lurks a black hole millions of times denser than Sol, resides the relentless heart of the Milky Way.

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Image: Digital collage by Tullio Francesco DeSantis, 2008

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Keith is that you? Part 11 – Is this the art of Keith Haring?

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These paintings constitute a portion of 300 newly discovered artworks said to be by Keith Haring that are being bought and sold on the international art market. Whether or not they are actually by Keith is a significant aspect of this narrative.
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Just home from Montreal. I’ll unpack in the morning.

Dawn and Mia are here to greet me. They know me so well; they can feel my heart beating across the room. After long hugs, they ask me about my trip.

“The trip was great except I got stopped and checked by border guards. Long story. They went through everything – down to my toothbrush and Q-tips.”

“The hotel was…uh…it didn’t cost a lot, at least. When I got there, I called Victor right away. I told him I didn’t want to start filming yet. I wanted to talk privately first. ”

“You were really wound up when you left,” Dawn says.

“Seems like you’re even more wound up now,” adds Mia.

“Yeah, well it was cool to meet Victor in person, finally. He met me out on the sidewalk, because I had called him from the cab. He looked like his picture – trimmed beard, bright eyes – scholarly.”

“Sultana is really nice. Shes pretty and smart and has a knack for saying the right thing at just the right time. She made a real Moroccan dinner – several courses. It was excellent.”

“Did you get to meet Ross,” asks Dawn.

“He came over before dinner. He’s a good guy. It’s obvious he’s a long-time friend of Victor and Sultana.”

Ross Bracewell manages Victor Lallouz’ projects as producer, business manager, and trusted advisor. A lot of the technical communications I’ve done in the past months have come through Ross.

Mia jumps to the big question. “So did you see the artwork? Did it look real?”

“I saw what I needed to see. The big ones were rolled up. I just don’t want to say a lot about how they look. OK?”

Mia looks like, for the first time in her life, I am dissembling on a direct question. And, of course, that’s just what I am doing.

I feel like a louse. I apologize and say,”…It’s just that I made up my mind not to answer that question because it’s not my business to say if they look authentic.”

“They looked good enough to let Victor know he should keep working on authentication. He has a lot of documentation on their history and he has a solid reputation as an art researcher. I could see that for myself – his notes and all. He’s studied their smallest details – knows them by heart.”

“Why did you come back so soon?” asks Dawn.

“I just said to Victor, ’We waited six months already – so many things have happened in that time. The situation keeps changing. And we’re just reacting. Since we’ve been talking about the best way to get the news out, one of the collections has been sold again.’”

“I said I’m not waiting any more. I’m going to start writing. It’s a huge story already and I’m going to tell it any way I can.”

“What about authentication?” They say this in unison.

“Victor is getting the collection ready. He’s getting better photos made now.”

“Remember that story in the Washington Post about the painting attributed to Keith? They published a picture of it when its authenticity was under dispute. In that case, that was the story. This is so much bigger than that.”

“When I found out part of the collection was sold again – that’s when I decided to speak out. A lot of artwork attributed to Keith is being traded on the international art market. Big money is changing hands. That’s newsworthy. And I’m going to tell people about it.”

Dawn and Mia look at each other with knowing eyes. I can sense their thoughts and feelings – the combination of excitement and concern they feel when they sense I am on an unstoppable trajectory…

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Images: Collection of Victor and Sultana Lallouz
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Note: Essential details of the story behind these artworks appear in Part 1 and
Part 10 of this series of ARTology blog entries.

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