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Keith Haring was a gay artist living in New York City when he was diagnosed with AIDS in 1988. His response to the illness was “Apocalypse,” a series of 10 paintings that signified his struggle with the disease.
“The resulting pain and anguish are eloquently expressed,” art critic David Galloway wrote in his essay “The Marriage of Heaven and Hell.”
More than 20 years later, those pieces have found their way west after Tyler Cassity, co-owner of the Hollywood Forever Cemetery, donated the pieces on March 11 to the Los Angeles Gay and Lesbian Center (LAGLC). The center is holding an exhibition of the pieces through March 30 at its Village at Ed Gould Plaza, 1125 N. McCadden Place.
“I hope and believe Keith Haring would be pleased that his passionate vision has found a home at the Center,” Cassity said at the opening of the exhibit. Cassity did not make himself available for further comment, something that did not surprise Alan Acosta, director of strategic initiative at the Center and a friend of Cassity’s for two years.
“He doesn’t really want any recognition for this donation,” Acosta said. “He’s shy that way. The most important thing was to let people share in the beauty of the pieces, which are very beautiful.”
Cassity had the pieces in storage for 18 years before he approached Acosta and asked if the center would like them.
“It was that simple,” Acosta said. “I think he felt it was a waste for them to be in storage and that they needed to be shared with other people.”
Jon Imparato, director of the Center’s Cultural Arts program, was thrilled that the entire series of paintings was donated to the center and will be displayed for the next month.
“It means a great deal to me,” Imparato said. “I originally saw his work on a wall in New York City during the 1980s at the height of the AIDS epidemic and I just started to cry. The work displayed everything people were going through at that time with the disease.”
Haring moved to New York in 1978 where his artwork gained popularity. He made friends with local street artists and used blank spaces on advertising benches as a canvas for many of his works. Between 1980 and 1985, Haring produced hundreds of works in the subways, which he came to call his laboratory.
“He really did merge two art worlds in New York,” Imparato said. “The graffiti and upper class art styles he used was a melding of class and culture.”
Haring’s early works were more lighthearted in style, but his “Apocalypse” paintings, a collaboration with writer and poet William S. Burroughs, were darker in nature and reflected a shift in style that occurred during the last years of his life while he was living with AIDS.
Imparato said having the paintings at the center at this time is fitting. This year marks the 10th anniversary of the AIDS Ride from San Francisco to Los Angeles, the 40th anniversary of the LAGLC and the 30th anniversary of the first reported case of AIDS.
“The work has so much relevance for us at this time,” Imparato said.
“Apocalypse” will be on display at the Advocate and Gochis Galleries at the Village at Ed Gould Plaza from 6 p.m. to 10 p.m. on weekdays, and 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturdays. Once the run is over, the pieces will be permanently moved to the LAGLC’s main headquarters at 1625 Schrader Blvd.
“Just to have them in this building right now, I don’t want them to ever take them down,” Imparato said.
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