CULTURE: Why This 30-Year-Old Keith Haring Mural Was Never Meant to Last

September 5, 2017

Chalk was the medium that made pop artist Keith Haring famous. The short-lived drawings he sketched on blank posters throughout the New York City subway had surprisingly long-term effects on his career, boosting widespread recognition of his tessellating figures that appealed to art connoisseurs and children alike.

And so, it follows that he was no stranger to temporary art. Haring knew that even his murals—close to 50 in total, scattered across the globe from Tokyo to Minneapolis—were subject to the same sort of impermanence.

“I realized, of course, that when you put something in public that it is in a certain way a gift,”  Haring said in an interview about his Houston Street mural in New York. “It’s vulnerable to whatever is going to happen to it from the outside world.”

That vulnerability was the intention for We the Youth, a collaborative mural the American artist created in Philadelphia in September of 1987. The work, which marks its 30th anniversary on Sunday, was always meant to be temporary.

It was also Plan B. Plan A was for Haring to paint a mural on a trash truck that would drive around Philadelphia, bringing art—and sanitation services—around town. The Philadelphia Sanitation Department refused to lend a truck for that purpose, however, so the project organizers came up with another idea.

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