A mural Keith Haring painted over three floors in the stairwell of an old convent in 1983 or 84 is at risk of demolition. Tenants have been given notice to quit and are due to be evicted from the building in the Morningside Heights, Manhattan. The Haring foundation are now worried about the fate of the artworks. The mural was created in the former convent building leased to the Catholic youth organisation Grace House. Haring painted the artwork during one evening while hanging out with the young people there attending a retreat. The artist had visited Grace House on a number of occasions and even acted as a DJ at a party convincing the programme director Gary Mallon backed by the young people to allow him to paint the mural.
The five-storey structure is owned by a neighbourhood parish, the Roman Catholic Church of the Ascension, which has rented out modest living spaces in the building for the past three years. Tenants were asked to vacate the premises by 1 August, DNAinfo reports, with the church citing its financial problems in a letter sent to the tenants four months ago. Tenants do not know of the church’s plans for the building, though some have told DNAinfo they have seen developers visit the building. The church did not immediately respond to The Art Newspaper’s request for comment. In late July, two tenants filed a joint lawsuit against the church, alleging the eviction is illegal according to the rent stabilisation laws of the state of New York. They remain in the building, along with some other tenants who were permitted to stay for additional time by the church.
The mural is “part of our identities”, one of the tenants who filed the lawsuit, Robert Savina, told DNAinfo. It is also a valuable example of Haring’s work; as Julia Gruen, the executive director of the Keith Haring Foundation, told the New York Times in 2007: “In terms of imagery, it’s like a lexicon of [Haring’s] vocabulary.” The line of dancing figures moving up the stairwell begins with a Radiant Baby figure and includes other recurring icons like the barking dog.
Photo: Keith Haring stairwell Morningside Hieghts NY courtesy Keith Haring Foundation