He was telling my housemate Lane and I about his sojourn to the Carnegie Museum to see this fantastic exhibition of work by Pierre Alechinsky. He couldn’t explain it clearly enough to us, how this show affected him. He was at a loss for the right words, but the words kept coming all the same. Lane and I quietly sipped tea while Keith kept talking, speaking about Alechinsky’s work as if he had just seen the face of God, or maybe met an angel, face to face. Keith Haring now knew his life’s purpose. Just like that. In my dining room. He woke up that morning, not knowing that when he came home that afternoon his life would be changed forever.
Lane and I had seen this excited, animated behaviour in him before, over a riff in a Greatful Dead tune, or after a Dubuffet painting or sculpture sighting, but never quite like this. Keith was forever changed after veiwing this exhibition, and his life – as well as his creative – direction had now been cast. It was obvious.
“Sit down and have some tea, Sweetpea”, I said, because even way back then I was everybody’s mother. But Keith was already gathering his things and heading out the door to see who else he could find to tell about the biggest discovery of his life.
The Pierre Alechinsky exhibition had become the center of our universe while it was hung at the Carnegie Museum that year. None of us quite got it. We all went to see it thinking it would change our lives too, but to the rest of us it was just another engaging exhibition that was well worth seeing. But Keith never stopped talking about it.
Twenty-five years later as I walked through the Eva Hesse exhibition at SFMOMA, I sat down on a bench in the middle of the show and cried. It wasn’t something I chose to do, it just happened. That exhibition was so overwhelming. I related to it as if her work was my own. I related to her as if she were my art mother. I get it now. It took twenty-five years but I now think I fully understand what Keith was talking about back then. It isn’t about just being moved, or even being motivated or influenced by someone else’s work. It is about being deeply connected to someone else’s work in an inexplicable, yet tangible, way. It is about now knowing exactly where the next step was taking me in my work. I got it. I totally got it.