Keith Haring’s Never-Before-Seen Digital Drawings On Auction As NFTs, Following Christie’s $3.8 Million Sale Of Andy Warhol Art From Floppy Disc

Two figures outlined in yellow and emblazoned with blue X-signs derived from the Latin cross on their chests dance rhythmically despite conjoining at the head. The joyful one-headed duo erupt from a magenta background and red floor adorned with what could be yellow stars. Lines or rays emanate from the animated figures to convey energy and enthusiasm, as if they’re on the dance floor at The Paradise Garage in New York’s SoHo, months before it shuttered in 1987 after 11 years of revolutionizing the nightclub experience by making the DJ a focal point. The many recurring motifs and symbols in Keith Haring’s work converge in this vibrant piece that breaks ground as the boundary-busting artist’s first digital art.

Untitled #2 (April 16, 1987) is one of five digital drawings that Haring created on an Amiga computer in the mid-1980s on view for the first time at Christie’s New York until today, after being showcased in Seoul, Korea, from September 7-8. The online auction, Keith Haring: Pixel Pioneer, is open for bidding, and Untitled #2 is expected to fetch between $300,000 and $500,000 tomorrow. The Lot is a non-fungible token (NFT), and clients, aside from those in China, may pay with cryptocurrency.

Haring, renowned for his activism and humanism nearly as much as his art across mediums, worked fluidly and simultaneously from street to studio, bridging underground counterculture and blue chip markets. Haring, along with Andy Warhol, led the charge in drawing together the physical art world with the world of Web3. In May 2021, Christie’s sale of five NFTs in Andy Warhol: Machine Made on behalf of The Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts generated nearly $3.4 million and gained equal interest from established global clients who traditionally bid on physical artworks and new registrants who pay with crypto. The Keith Haring Foundation minted the five Amiga artworks from floppy disks on the Ethereum blockchain. All proceeds from the sale will benefit the Keith Haring Foundation.

“By 1985, Warhol was asked and agreed to be a spokesperson for Commodore (International) to do the digital art for the live audience announcing their new launch of a product. And that’s how the Warhol works came to life, and Keith was there and just as excited about this as well, and they were really thick as thieves at that time and inspiring one another,” Michael Hermann, director of the Andy Warhol Foundation, said during a panel discussion at Christie’s last Thursday, moderated by Nicole Sales Giles, the auction giant’s director of digital art. “The love and inspiration was sort of mutual.”

“The group of artists that got big in the ‘80s look to Andy as like this father figure, this mentor. Andy in a sense gave them agency and permission to actually be successful money-making artists. It almost was an implication that they didn’t have to follow the broke artist, starving artist trope,” said Gil Vazquez, director of the Keith Haring Foundation. “They got permission from him, and they drew energy from each other. Andy, at that time, is receiving all this attention from this group of artists, who are not yet fully established in the art world. They’re outsiders, impressing each other, doing shows for each other, putting on performances, curating shows, really outside of the established art world, but there was so much activity there, that the established art world finally took note. And again, Andy was revered by this group of artists.”

For those not ready to bid on the NFT, Christie’s, in collaboration with The Haring Studio and digital wearables brand MNTGE, is offering a vintage patch featuring Untitled #2 (April 16, 1987) for $39.99, Haring, who operated two Pop Shops in New York and Tokyo to make his work truly accessible, would have embraced the idea for a limited version of the artwork converted into Haring’s first NFTs. “ It’s about participation on a big level,” Haring said of the Pop Shop concept.

Longtime acolytes of Haring and Warhol fondly recall the photographs of the Pop Art trailblazers along with Kenny Scharf, and Steve Jobs crouched down in Sean Lennon’s room in the Dakota to celebrate the celebrity scion’s ninth birthday on October 9, 1984. Jobs set up his gift, the latest Macintosh computer, on the bedroom floor to demonstrate how the mouse works with MacPaint. Warhol and Haring were as enthralled as the child, with the elder master delighting in novelty and innovation: “What is this? Look at this, Keith. This is incredible!” Warhol presented his first effort with childlike whimsy: “Look! Keith! I drew a circle!”

Two years later, psychologist, author, and psychedelic drug visionary Timothy Leary gave Haring an Amiga computer to create art for Neuromancer: An Electronic Mind Movie, an interactive digital story that would become a software promotion for a feature film adapted from William Gibson’s cult classic cyberpunk novel. While neither project came to fruition, Haring created a series of digital drawings found on a floppy disc in Leary’s archives.

Those of us who were among the first to study with Apple’s MacPaint raster graphics editor (a computer program that allows users to interactively create and edit images and save them as bitmap images) know how difficult it was to draw a circle or any shape or image that you could easily achieve by hand. The NFTs by Haring and Warhol adroitly resemble their hand drawings to reveal their skill in shifting to a then-incomparable and intimidating medium.

“My drawings were perfect for translation into computers because the drawing line was already very close to the idea of ‘pixels’ (the dots, or squares, that comprise a computer-generated image),” Haring wrote in a July 8, 1986, journal entry.

Haring ‘s work across mediums and venues and audiences continues to inspire new generations of artists like Grant Yun.

“I was really inspired by seeing someone who was really big in the art world, and also in contemporary pop culture in general. And a lot of his ideas really inspired me and influenced me when I was first starting out. Over the years, I’ve been working in my own way and my own medium, but I see now that Keith Haring’s idea of accessibility, through his visual mediums, really resonates with a lot of people in the digital space because, overall, when it comes down to it, his art was for people who were art appreciators,” Yun told said on the panel. “I think in the digital age today, he might have not foreseen where social media was going. But I think his message overall, and his ability to dive into the digital art that we see here, really is inspiring, and I think resonates with a lot of digital artists today who really just are about trying to increase the accessibility for art and artists overall.”

Sales Giles noted the parallel between how Haring and Warhol worked to marry street and studio with efforts of today’s Web3 community, both groups at the forefront of the dynamic art worlds of their time.

“The way in which Keith and Andy were trying to bridge two cultures in the ‘80s, particularly Keith with the street art culture, bringing them into the art gallery. I think when we look at the Web3 community today, a lot of what Grant and a lot of other artists are trying to do is bridging those two cultures,” said Sales Giles. When Christie’s “got involved in 2021 … it’s really a confluence of these two cultures that are coming together. And it’s a super interesting time.”

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