As the Broad Museum in Los Angeles opens its major retrospective on famed American painter and street artist, Keith Haring, a question continues to loom over the art market: why exactly is Haring’s art so undervalued compared to his two close friends and peers, Warhol and Basquiat?
In the 1980s, Haring emerged from the vibrant New York City art scene, bridging street art and pop art to mass appeal. He formed close friendships and creative alliances with fellow artists working in the city, Jean-Michel Basquiat and Andy Warhol. Notably, there are significant parallels between the careers of Basquiat and Haring. Both were street artists of the early 1980s whose work spilled outside of the galleries into subway stations and on buildings around the city. Both men, though in very different ways, represented marginalised communities seeking visibility and respect. Both created their best work in the first years of the 1980s and saw their work featured in Documenta 7 in the Fall of 1982. Both died young after brief-but-brilliant careers. Basquiat was 27; Haring was 31. Basquiat died of an overdose; Haring succumbed to AIDS.
When looking at today’s market for each of the three artists, one sees just how drastic the price difference is. Works by Basquiat have sold up to $110 million publicly and even more privately. Similarly, Warhol made headlines last year when a blue-version of his iconic Marilyn portrait sold for $195 million at auction. However, the top price ever paid publicly for a Haring work was back in 2021, for $5.9 million.
Arguably, Haring’s work is just as recognisable as the works of his two peers, so why is it that there is such a significant gap in price?
The source of the price differential might be revealed in the very title of the Broad show – Art is for Everybody. Haring’s emphasis on inclusive, accessible art might possibly have devalued some of his works to collectors looking for trophies, objects of exclusivity. That said, Banksy’s works have sold for $20 million or more. It doesn’t seem unreasonable to expect a Haring, especially a sizeable painting, to be valued closer to that figure; however, the Haring market has a long way to go before that happens.
Another theory lies in the themes depicted within Haring’s work. Often incorporating highly sexual and provocative imagery, and directly referencing the ongoing AIDS epidemic of the late 20th century, Haring was not afraid to confront his viewer with themes and messages that are not the easiest to digest. That being said, Basquiat’s oeuvre is brimming with themes and motifs surrounding similarly harsh topics, such as police brutality and racism, which has not affected his market demand and price.
With all that said, there certainly is movement in the price of Haring’s work. A seven-and-a-half foot tall DayGlo-orange-and-green work, sold last November at Christie’s, that made $5.8 million is an example of what a great work can do. The same painting was sold in 2006 for $553,600. Sixteen years with 10x growth is a strong outcome, and definitely reflects the potential growth his market may hold.
While Haring's art may be considered undervalued thus far, his far-reaching influence on contemporary art and culture is undeniable, enough so to indicate of an eventual rise in his market, maybe even matching his peers. Whether this might be influenced by a new wave of institutional retrospectives, we will have to wait and see how the market plays out.
Keith Haring: Art Is for Everybody is on at The Broad until October 8, 2023.