When Keith Haring painted Chicago | Bleader

When Keith Haring painted Chicago

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  • Andrew Hickey

In the spring of 1989, at the invitation of a local teacher named Irving Zucker, artist Keith Haring came to Chicago to paint a 500-foot-long mural in Grant Park with the help of more than 400 CPS high school students. The project was a PR sensation. WTTW made a short documentary narrated by Dennis Hopper. Rolling Stone came to town to cover the project. Haring, who'd been diagnosed with AIDS in '87, would die of complications from the disease just nine months later.

I asked Zucker, who's retired and spends his winters in Guatemala, what he remembers from the three-day project. "There wasn't just one memorable thing," he says. "The behavior of the kids was inspiring. The constant outpouring of love. It was clear to me why I loved teaching so much. There were kids who cut school to come downtown to participate. And there were kids from suburban schools who came down and pretended they were part of the various invited Chicago high school groups."

Two other Haring murals materialized in the city around the same time: one on the fourth floor of Rush University Medical Center’s atrium, the other inside Wells Community Academy High School in West Town. The latter, a characteristically colorful floor-to-ceiling piece depicting humanoid forms in motion, is dated '89 and carries Haring's signature, but the mural was actually completed a couple of days before Haring’s arrival in Chicago, as a sort of welcome to the artist.

According to Zucker, Haring sent the school a sort of architectural working drawing for the mural, which was executed by fellow teacher Tony Abboreno, an abstract artist, and Wells High School art students; Abboreno did the outlines and the students filled them in. "Of course, Keith gave it his final approval and then signed it in his own hand," Zucker adds.

As for the Grant Park mural, a portion of it is on display at Midway, where Zucker worries it's being exposed to the elements. He says CPS informed him that the rest of Haring's mural is in storage at a warehouse space in the West Loop.

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