Witnessing Keith Haring’s rebirth

We witnessed the rebirth of Keith Haring’s ‘Seamonster’ mural at the Food Center Amsterdam, an industrial site housing 80 companies responsible for distribution of meat and vegetables to retailers and supermarkets which is normally inaccessible to the public. Not exactly the place where you’d expect to find an important artwork catching daylight for the very first time in 30 years.

The mural is located at the Jan van Galenstraat in the West-district of Amsterdam. The reason why Haring painted his work at this odd location back in 1986 was that the so-called ‘Koelhuis’ was used as storage depot of the Stedelijk Museum Amsterdam. After only two years of visibility to the public his work was covered with huge aluminum weatherboarding in 1989. This was necessary for climate control and isolation so the stored art works were safe from the influences of Mother Nature. A couple of years later the museum moved out of the building and the new owner forgot about the mural.

 

Stedelijk Museum exhibition poster / Keith posing in front of his mural, 1986 (Photo: Patricia Steur)

 

Freehand style

At that time appointed director of the Stedelijk Wim Beeren organized a major Keith Haring solo show in 1986. Keith insisted on painting in public space because he wanted to share his work not only with the elite of the art world but also with the average guy in the street. His mural showed a human figure riding the back of a CoBrA-like mythological animal. Keith considered his mural “A gift for the people of the city of Amsterdam”.

 

Mural in progress. (Photo: Stedelijk Museum Amsterdam)

The mural has been made using a broad bristle brush and a bucket of white paint. Using his famous freehand drawing style Keith painted his ‘Seamonster’ directly onto the bricks of the wall without using sketches for planning. Making use of a hydraulic platform and not feeling the need to climb down to observe his work from a distance, to check if the composition was right, makes it even more incredible. A technique more common in the world of street art these days but back then highly personal and original.

 

Survival of the fittest

The area of the Food Center has been targeted for urban renewal. Half of the industrial site will be turned into a residential area. At first the developers planned for the building to be torn down. The survival of the Keith Haring mural was at stake if it wasn’t for Aileen ‘Mick La Rock’ Middel and a group of other individuals that put in much energy to make sure the mural got the proper attention it deserved.

In 2015 the Keith Haring Foundation (KHF) contacted Aileen while she was curating the exhibition ‘Graffiti – New York meets The Dam’ in the Amsterdam Museum. The mission of the KHF is to sustain, expand, and protect the legacy of Keith Haring, his art, and his ideals. They asked Aileen if she could help to protect and restore Haring’s Amsterdam mural. She went on a mission Pitbull-style and refused to take no for an answer.

 

Removal of the aluminum plates. (Photo: Remko Koopman)

 

A research in 2012 had already proven the mural was still intact. With the help of Olivier Varossieau (Vroom & Varossieau Gallery), who had the right contacts in the world of project developers, it took Mick La Rock four years to make all parties realize the importance of the mural painting. On Monday the 18th of June 2018 Marktkwartier West (the owner of the building) gave the order to remove the first aluminum plate. By doing this a beginning is made with restoring the mural for future generations to enjoy.

 

Restoring cultural heritage

In 2017 another Haring mural called ‘The Tower’, painted on the former staircase of the Necker Children’s Hospital in Paris, was brought back to full glory by renowned Haring restorers William Shank and Antonio Rava. Both gentlemen were present when the plates came down in Amsterdam. According to them the paint showed a lot of damage but could be restored.

 

William Shank and Antonio Rava inspecting the weak spots. (Photo: Remko Koopman)

 

Worldwide there are only a few public Haring murals left. The city of Amsterdam should be very proud to have one of them. Also because it’s his (and Europe’s) largest, measuring 12 by 15 meters, still existing painting in public space. 100% Cultural Heritage. At the moment all involved parties are gathered around the table to negotiate a possible restoration in September of this year.

Street Art Today will come with an in-depth report when the restoration process has started. For now, we’ll keep our fingers crossed this will truly happen. Nothing is sure yet.

 

Have your say

Comments

Remko Koopman is a visual artist, graphic designer and author from Leiden, The Netherlands. He has been active as a graffiti writer using the pseudonym 'SCAGE' since 1987 and infiltrated the world of Street Art with artist collective 'Booyabase'. Koopman is co-author of the classic Dutch graffiti book 'Amsterdam Graffiti - The Battle of Waterloo' and author of the book 'De Leidse School' (The School of Leiden). He's also active within the field of cultural education for the youth.