Queer art for all

Celebrating the life and legacy of artist Keith Haring is a major retrospective of his work at Bozar Centre for Fine Arts.

Haring was a unique figure in 1980s New York. This was an era defined by HIV, the Cold War, and social injustice – all of which Haring engaged with through his work.

One of the strengths of this exhibition is the way in which it has used Haring’s work as a springboard for discussion and debate, bringing communities together to examine how queer activism and identity resonate today.

World-renowned choreographer Bill T. Jones was a close friend of Keith Haring. Jones has been spending time in Brussels to share his memories of the New York art scene with young people of today.

“It makes me think about the nature of the artist, the context – it wasn’t just about talent”, says Jones, reflecting on the art and legacy of his friend. “Keith’s heroes were Walt Disney and Andy Warhol. I think about the connection between Warhol and Disney and capitalism – they’ve become something that can be consumed. Would Keith have gone the same way?”

“I don’t pretend to know what was or might be in Keith’s mind”, continues Jones, when we ask him how Keith might feel about his place in the art world. “He might see some of his work as juvenalia – a young artist trying new things. He would have been proud of the bridge that he helped build between urban artists and the art world. Keith’s work has survived, despite a lot of the criticism that he received. I feel a sense of vindication on his behalf.”

“My message is primarily for young people”, adds Jones. “I want to tell them that you feel like the first ones to be alienated, the first to discover nightlife, the first to feel like you’re taking over the world. It’s not true. Every generation feels that. My generation felt that. My generation had to learn. It felt like the end of an arc, but it wasn’t – the arc keeps twisting, keeps evolving.”

Celebrating the life of Keith Haring, the ballroom collective For All Queens is staging a Vogue Take Ovah event at Bozar.

“Keith Haring was greatly inspired by ballroom culture”, explains Zelda of For All Queens. “He created the grand prizes for the Love Ball, and he was a great friend of Father Jose Xtravaganza.”

“His art reminds us of the amount of work that still needs to be done”, adds Zelda. “When people attend one of our events, we hope they walk away informed and ready to create change in their own environments.”

Keith Haring

Bozar Centre for Fine Arts

Rue Ravensteinstraat 23, Brussels

Until 19 April