The Art Gallery of Ontario's Keith Haring Exhibit is a Window Into Nightlife's Past
To celebrate the opening of the exhibition on the legendary New York artist, the gallery is bridging nightlife’s past and future.
The Art Gallery of Ontario (AGO) is celebrating the artist Keith Haring with a performance by a legendary New York DJ. Lina Bradford will be playing the opening, along with YOHOMO founders Phil Villeneuve and Armand Digdoyo. The opening of Keith Haring: Art Is For Everybody will be held on Nov. 17 at the AGO’s Walker Court.
The exhibit highlights Haring’s works in 1980s New York, from party fliers to his vibrant and colourful paintings that have permeated pop culture. The exhibit also allows visitors to view the process behind Haring’s work, from tarps to the outlines that he made before painting over.
The opening party explicitly connects Haring to the New York club scene he was part of in the '80s. Lina Bradford made a huge impact on that scene, spreading into the '90s.
“Lina is such an anchor of New York City nightlife, has been for well over 20 years, and knew Keith and partied with Keith,” says Villeneuve, co-founder and editor of Toronto LGBTQ2+ online community, YOHOMO, which is co-producing the opening night party.
“She came up DJing with [pioneering DJs] Frankie Knuckles and Larry Lavan, who she called her brothers. She’d say she started because Frankie Knuckles dared her to do it.”
Haring’s exhibit comes at a critical time for Toronto's culture and nightlife. Post-pandemic, the city's queer underground has gained prominence. For Villeneuve, Haring provides a beacon for the new generation of partygoers, DJs and promoters.
Haring’s influence on New York nightlife spanned throughout the ‘80s, until his death in 1990. During the height of his career, you’d find Haring at legendary it-spots like Paradise Garage or Club 57. Haring had even produced a mural inside Palladium nightclub.
“Keith was so woven into nightlife, because art is a part of nightlife,” Villeneuve says. “He would do giant murals inside the club, he would do artwork for the DJs' mixtapes that they would pass around.”
Villeneuve talks about Haring’s originality and passion, especially when it comes to his party posters. He emphasizes the importance of authenticity, which is what he sees in Haring’s work. The next generation should take it as a lesson, he suggests.
“Don’t produce things that are ‘cool’; clearly Keith never did that,” he says. “He had his vision and pushed forward with that.”