Artists Conservation Australia

This mural should be a living work

Campaign grows to repaint the last large-scale Keith Haring in Australia

Haring painting the mural at Collingwood Technical College in 1984, and right, the work in 2010

Arts Victoria is expected to lodge a permit application with Heritage Victoria shortly so that it can begin conservation work on Keith Haring’s last surviving large-scale mural in Australia. The proposed move has prompted protest from art world figures, the local council and the Keith Haring Foundation, who have called for the mural to be repainted in accordance with the late artist’s wishes, rather than being preserved in its current state.

Time, neglect and the elements have taken their toll on the mural, painted on the former Collingwood Technical College in 1984 at the behest of John Buckley, then the director of the Australian Centre for Contemp­orary Art (ACCA). A campaign to prevent the work from fading away began in earnest in 2010 (The Art Newspaper, June 2010, p8). In April 2011, Arts Victoria released a conservation management plan that calls for “urgent conservation works” including an investigation of the materials used by Haring, cleaning, “selective retouching”, stabilisation and the application of a protective coating. A spokeswoman for Arts Victoria says: “It is important to note that the [plan] does not rule out overpainting the mural in the future should appropriate materials become available that would not destroy the original paint work.”

Others would like to see the mural’s vibrancy restored through repainting. “We are in favour of repainting Keith’s murals… because it is more important that the work conveys Keith’s ideals and respect for the communities in which he worked, rather than preserve a brushstroke,” said Julia Gruen, the executive director of the foundation, in a statement last November. She also said that it was Haring’s desire that the mural be a permanent fixture in Collingwood and that it is “now a shadow of its former, vibrant self, and merely maintaining it in its current condition is an incomplete solution”.

Juliana Engberg, the artistic director of the ACCA, agrees. In a radio interview for 774 ABC Melbourne, Engberg said that Haring left clear instructions that his works should be repainted when possible. “We are not talking about a masterhand work—it’s not chiaroscuro—it’s very delineated and anyone with a capacity in line work could [repaint it] very competently,” she said, adding: “If we stabilise it now, it would just be a vapid, dilapidated [piece] instead of a lively work.”

According to Hannah Mathews, a curator at the ACCA, several high-profile figures within the art world have written letters to Arts Victoria to show support for the mural’s repainting, including Elizabeth Ann Macgregor, the director of the Museum of Contemporary Art, Sydney, and Jeffrey Deitch, who represented the artist’s estate before he traded in his gallerist hat to become the director of the Los Angeles Museum of Contemporary Art. Deitch did not respond to requests for comment.

Alison Clarke, the mayor of Yarra (the inner Melbourne municipality where the mural is), is also backing the plan to repaint. “We know there are differing views about how the mural should be conserved, but we’ve come down on the side of supporting what the artist would have wanted,” she says.

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Comments

18 Jan 12
15:20 CET

THOMAS DIXON, MELBOURNE AUSTRALIA

The National Trust instigated a classification process for this mural in the 1990s and the Haring Foundation and at that time all agreed Haring left no specific instructions for the preservation of his murals, yet now many people claim to know what he would want. What changed? There is an assumption that the painting will be saved by simple overpainting, yet even if this were desirable, independent experts including conservators and university consultants who have examined the mural warn that due to the lack of preparation of the brick wall the mural was painted on and its relative absorbancy, repaint will likely peel and not only destroy any trace of the original mural, but become an eyesore in and of itself. The Government commissioned an independent study which carefully considered the options and recommended this mural be preserved rather than allow it to be obliterated and should be congratulated. Tom Dixon, Public Art Committee, National Trust, Melbourne Australi

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