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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 of 31.

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," she said.

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 said.

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,'" Mofakham said.

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," he said.

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 subways."

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 directors.

"We're looking for someone who might be interested in making a major donation," either a legacy buyer or a private buyer, she said.

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."

Copyright © 2006 by Bay City News, Inc. -- Republication, Rebroadcast or any other Reuse without the express written consent of Bay City News, Inc. is prohibited.




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