Keith Haring mural for sale
by San Francisco childcare center
By Brigid Gaffikin, Bay City News Service
March 4, 2006
SAN FRANCISCO (BCN) - An artist's foresight may help a
San Francisco childcare center that caters to low-income children
pay off a large debt, the center's executive director said Thursday.
A black-and-white mural measuring 77 feet by 8 feet that renowned
artist Keith Haring painted for the not-for-profit South
of Market Childcare in 1985, and that is now valued at around
$1.7 million, is up for sale by the school.
The mural was painted on removable panels in the school's gymnasium
at its Clementina Street site and features a cheerful cast that
includes children, whimsical animal characters, and a self-portrait
of Haring at the end of one panel.
One appraiser has speculated that a figure at the opposite end
of the mural is another self-portrait and that the mural is actually
a story of Haring's short life, according to the school's executive
director, Noushin Mofakham.
Haring died of AIDS-related complications in 1990 at the age
SOMACC is reeling under the $1.5 million loan it took out to
reopen its new site on Natoma Street, Mofakham said. The center
will be moving either this month or in April to a location containing
a low-income housing development where some of the center's students
and teachers live.
The school put the mural on the market about 18 months ago, according
to Judith Baker, director of the school's family resources program.
"We never expected to move. We had been there since 1970,"
The decision to sell the painting came after a lot of discussion
among school board members and with experts in the art world and
the Haring Foundation,
Mofakham and Baker initially thought they could sell some panels
and keep a few others for the new site. But when an appraiser
from the art dealer Christie's came to look at the painting, it
soon became clear the mural had to remain intact.
"Christie's said, 'Wow! Wow! This is really huge,'"
Every art consultant the school spoke to emphasized that the
mural could not be broken apart.
Josh Shirkey, curatorial director at the San Francisco Museum
of Modern Art, called the painting a "buried jewel"
and said he had no idea it had been at the school for so long.
It's "beautifully done and unique and important in Haring's
body of work, which was fairly limited because of his early death,"
From start to finish, Haring painted the piece in a matter of
hours while children from the center looked on, Baker said.
"He was very fast" and "didn't trace from a model,"
she said. "I guess he's used to painting fast in New York
Haring became famous in the late 1980s for drawing hundreds of
chalk images on advertising panels in New York subway stations.
The mural was also painted at an important juncture in Haring's
career, when he began to produce deeply political work, Shirkey
said, and was one of the early pieces Haring created specifically
for financial purposes.
In 1985, Haring realized he was dying and that his work could
be very valuable one day. He had begun to produce pieces for low
income communities knowing that at a time of future need they
would be able to sell them, and contacted SOMACC with that goal
in mind while he was visiting San Francisco, Mofakham explained.
That's why Haring chose the removable panels on the gymnasium's
walls, she said.
Haring's "whole desire was for his art work to be accessible
and to be used and consumed by more people than the art world
audience," and this mural shows the artist's "sensitivity
to public art and the uses of public art," Shirkey noted.
But the painting's size and value is proving problematic, and
even buyers who might be able to afford to hefty price tag have
balked at the size.
The mural may have a prospective home in one of the University
of California's new buildings, but the university doesn't have
the money to actually pay for the painting, according to Jane
Weil, spokeswoman for the South of Market Childcare's board of
"We're looking for someone who might be interested in making
a major donation," either a legacy buyer or a private buyer,
Shirkey and the directors of SOMACC hope the painting will stay
in the Bay Area.
The mural in the childcare center "was something special
there for the families," Baker said.
But the center will sell the mural to a buyer from another state
or even overseas if one emerges.
Haring wanted to help low-income communities financially, Mofakham
explained. Selling the painting, even one that was treasured by
the school for so long, will realize this goal, she said.
The Haring Foundation has given its blessing to the school to
sell the mural.
But Mofakham said she regretted that the school's staff hadn't
taken better care of the mural.
"We had no idea" of the mural's value, she said. In
that sense, she added, "I feel we failed."
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