As Performance Space New York celebrates its 40th year of promoting and presenting work centered on interdisciplinary work, bold experimentation, community and world building, and expression as protest, the organization announces a major partnership with the Keith Haring Foundation.
In 1980 Haring received a studio residency in the PS 122 building, where he developed what would become his signature painting style. Performance Space shares and is inspired by Haring’s desire to bring together diverse artistic voices and media, combining seemingly disparate trends in New York culture to create a body of work that captures the spirit of our times. As the centerpiece of this partnership, Performance Space will name its primary black box space the Keith Haring Theater, showcasing an exhilarating cohesion of the visions of the organization and the Foundation. In addition to theater, the Keith Haring Foundation’s $1,000,000 prize will fund the Keith Haring Curatorial Fellowship, a two-year leadership position for a young curator who culminates in their own independent project, as well as an appointment. you annual free. the-public Keith Haring Lecture Series.
This historic year provides an opportunity for Performance Space to reflect on what lies ahead through those who, in its vital past, also envisioned the best future that art and activism could imagine and catalyze. Keith Haring fluidly engaged a variety of disciplines – as seen in his performance curating (“Acts of Live Art”) at Club 57 – and in his street art, exhibitions and collaborations he combined a playful sensibility with incisive social commentary and, in the late 1980s, HIV/AIDS activism. This alliance highlights Performance Space’s history of engaging artists who build crossroads between disciplines and question given forms, in conjunction with their transcendence of the norms around them.
Suzanne Geiss – who, with her deep history with Haring’s work and estate, has energized a strong relationship between the organization and the Keith Haring Foundation, and who Performance Space New York today announced she will take on the role as Chair of the Board of Directors of Performance Space New York – says, “A key part of our mission – to combine disciplines and communities, and to be inspired by nightlife – is very much in the spirit of how Keith Haring saw the world. Haring’s work, his synthesis of different forms of expression into a single vocabulary, also really encapsulated the energy of the East Village. In this same neighborhood, now, with the naming of the theater and the various programs surrounding this partnership, its legacy will be constantly fresh in the minds of artists and audiences of all generations.”
As Geiss steps into her new role, acclaimed theater artist and Performance Space board member Kaneza Schaal was named Vice Chairman of the Board of Performance Space New York.
Keith Haring’s story with Performance Space New York
In the summer of 1980, Haring received a studio residency from PS122 and began working on the building’s 4th floor. (Visual art exhibits were held inside artists’ studios during “open studio days” while performers held open rehearsals, work-in-progress, and presented art projects from performance and dance on the second and first floors.) During his 1980 residency, Haring covered the walls of his studio with paintings of pregnant women, animals, birds, human figures with heads of dogs, crawling babies and UFOs Haring’s fascination with poems, collages, puzzles and anagrams permeated this new pictorial vocabulary and formed a visual lexicon for subsequent works. He also envisioned and imagined new ways for art to reach audiences.
That summer, Haring had carpeted the East Village with collages of his New York Post cut-out headlines and was performing at nearby Club 57. In two performances he made a 1980 video – Phonics and Lick Fat Boys – Haring plays games with words breaking language into phonemes and rearranging them physically with letters on a wall, and verbally through recitation. Inspired by the performers, dancers, poets and filmmakers he encountered in the many clubs and venues of the East Village, he expanded his notion of what a painting could be: “Performance (the act of painting) becomes as important as the resulting painting. Movement as painting. Painting as movement. Moving towards a work of art that encompasses music, performance, movement, concept, craftsmanship and an actual recording of the event in the form of a painting (i.e. a plan, a choreography). Painting as performance.”
Towards the end of his residency, Haring introduced these performative practices into his visual art and began painting in the street with a marker, a practice he would develop throughout his career. His exposure to PS 122 and use of street art added to his growing visibility and marked a turning point in his career. Just two years later, Haring’s visual language of characters and symbols would become an international icon.
In the late 1980s, Haring used his work to vehemently raise awareness and counter a policy of neglect surrounding the AIDS epidemic. After being diagnosed with AIDS, he founded the Keith Haring Foundation in 1988, whose primary mandate was to provide funds and images to AIDS service organizations and youth programs. Performance Space’s history is deeply rooted in expression as a mode of survival for members of the queer community amid the devastation of the times. Here, unwavering works like the co-founder of Performance Space Tim Miller and John Bernd’s 1981 duo Live Boys – in which Bernd casually listed his physical ailments even before the epidemic had a name – and Ishmael Houston-Jones, Chris Cochrane, and Dennis Cooper’s 1986 THEM dance (which was featured in the organization’s East Village series in 2018) have been developed and shared. Fundraisers like 1986’s Dancing for Our Lives! A Dance Benefit in Support of Persons with AIDS, and its organizers, have taken bold and highly visible positions in a time of immense stigma. Stemming from its heritage as a space for radical expression is an ongoing mission to give space to artists whose lives, identities, and work are often at odds with America’s oppressive mainstream. Today, Performance Space New York’s partnership with the foundation that protects Haring’s legacy, art, and ideals brings previously intertwined stories into a generative, future-focused dialogue.