PRINT July/August 2020


Keith Haring, Safe Sex, 1985, acrylic on canvas tarp, 120 × 118". © Keith Haring Foundation. Used by permission.

“BY THIS TIME—1985—things have seriously changed in New York, and in my life, because the horror of AIDS had come to light.” The words are Keith Haring’s, quoted in his biography. For Haring, as for many queer people in the mid-1980s, the moment ushered in an unprecedented experiment in social distancing: “You had to start being selective and much more aware of what you were doing, and who you were doing it with,” he writes, noting the need to balance communal safety with a hard-won culture of liberated sexuality. “I didn’t stop having sex, but had safe sex or what was considered and understood to be safe sex at that point.”

If the biological toll of a pandemic can be easily quantified, the impact on culture is harder to measure. Speaking with biographer John Gruen, Haring is quick to reassure him: “Of course, nothing changed as far as the creation of my work was concerned.” But

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