The first thing you'll notice when you walk into the Moore Building for "Haring Miami" is its scope. The exhibit promises more than 200 works by the pop artist Keith Haring, whose colorful paintings became emblematic of 1980s art.
Two hundred doesn't sound like a lot in theory, particularly to Miami art fans who are exposed to hundreds of works each month at Wynwood's Second Saturday Art Walk and to thousands at a time each year at Art Basel.
But 200 works by Haring is another story. His canvases, many of which are hung unframed like tapestries, fill four stories of the Moore Building with Haring's instantly recognizable images: human figures dancing and crouching on all fours, simplistically rendered TV sets, dogs, angels. The effect was one of welcome sensory overload.
It's one thing to see Haring's works in reprinted form. They look almost cartoonish, like way better versions of the doodles you used to make during boring college lectures. But seeing the original work up close adds a different, more detailed element. At "Haring Miami," viewers can see, perhaps for the first time, the energy of the artist's brushstrokes and the subtle variations in color that weren't visible on the charity posters and other projects that helped introduce Haring to mainstream America.
Here's another thing you won't often see: Haring's off-canvas works. Haring applied his characteristic style to a variety of objects. On the ground floor, an illuminated crossing signal bears on its sides Haring sketches in black marker. There's also a leather jacket adorned with silver Haring drawings. On the second floor, a white telephone sculpture features intricate embellishments. And one whole corner of the exhibit is set up like a sitting area, complete with a Haring-enhanced chair, side table, and vase.
Seeing all the works at once is both exciting and thought-provoking. But it would be an even more valuable experience if they were presented with some sort of context. No information is given about any of the individual works, aside from a booklet noting the size and medium of each. Most of Haring's works are untitled, but viewers could still benefit from knowing the dates the pieces were completed and an explanation of their historic or artistic significance. For instance, a series of Haring's paintings of Andy Warhol as Mickey Mouse (or vice versa) is one of the first things attendees see as they walk into the exhibit. On its surface, it's a snarky analogy, but the deeper issues of the commercializing of art -- something both Warhol and Haring confronted -- are lost on many viewers. It's a disappointing missed opportunity to provoke thought and discussion on the issue, especially for an exhibit set in the Design District, a former art haven that continues to develop for maximum profit.
Another disappointment comes in the form of a disclaimer posted discreetly on each floor, quietly announcing that not all the art in the exhibit has been verified by the Haring Foundation as authentic Keith Haring works. Knowing that bit of info makes it more difficult to embrace the individual canvases on their own merits; rather than pondering the meaning of a piece, I found myself wondering where it came from and whether it was the real deal. Context would been welcome here as well -- something telling viewers where the piece came from, whether it has been authenticated and by whom, and if not, why the curators opted to include it in the show anyway.
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Ultimately, I left the exhibit with more questions than answers. "Haring Miami" offers a breathtaking landscape of works and the opportunity to examine up-close the work of an artist who charmed an entire generation. For those of us who grew up in the '80s, it's a nostalgic experience and a way to broaden an appreciation of an artist who began, and perhaps has not developed since, our childhood. But if you're hoping to learn about the artist's life as well as his work, you'd better read up on him before you walk through the doors.
"Haring Miami" at the Moore Building (4040 NE Second Ave., Miami); now through Sunday, March 17. Tickets cost $25 to $250. Call 305-531-8700 or visit haringmiami.com.
Follow Ciara LaVelle on Twitter @ciaralavelle.