[Lilly Reed]: Hello, I’m Lilly Reed – a Senior Sociology and Art History double major and 2022 intern for the Wake Forest University Art Collection under the leadership of Jennifer Finkel Acquavella, Curator of Collections. 

As a part of the Collection’s zeal to engage the Wake Forest community – and – to highlight our Mark H. Reece student-acquired collection of contemporary art  – we have created our Focus Series here in Benson University Center. 

The Focus Series highlights works from the collection each month. For November 2022, we’re placing a spotlight on a work that exemplifies dialogue with political activism and cultural history. This is an untitled work from 1982 by Keith Haring, acquired on the student buying trip of 1985. 

Here is some background on Keith Haring. He was an American artist, born in 1958, and died in 1990. He emerged in a legendary time for art in New York in the 1980s. At this time, he became renowned for his collaborative approach and activism, complimented by his refreshingly simple visual language that emulated influences from the social culture of that period and his daily experiences. Haring catapulted to superstardom as a pop artist, dying of AIDS in 1990.

For this Focus Series, we are fortunate to have Brooke Shields, famed actress, model, and proud mother in conversation with her daughter Rowan Henchy, Wake Forest class of 2025, Brooke was a close friend of Keith Haring. Brooke was kind enough to share memorable anecdotes of Keith and his contributions that have left an indelible mark on Pop Art.

[Rowan]: So first off, this here is a Keith Haring piece. And I know that you have had some past experiences with Keith Haring. You’ve had a prior relationship with him. So first off, can you share any stories or pasts, conversations, or interactions that you’ve had with Keith Haring?

[Brooke]: It was one of the sweetest moments in my whole life. I did not know that, so I had collaborated with Keith, and a photographer named Richard Avedon, and we had all collaborated together. We did a series of photographs where he drew, he had a beautiful heart and he decorated the heart. And then I was photographed with the heart. And we had done some pictures together and we made posters out of them, and it was a collaboration of three artists. It’s basically Richard Avedon, Keith Haring, and I count myself in that group even though I am not nearly as a luminary as they were and are. So after that we just became friends. And when he got sick and he was dying, and none of us knew it, and he asked me to go out to dinner. And he said, “Can I take you out to dinner?” And I said, “I would love that.” We went to Mr. Chow’s on the Upper East Side and we had a wonderful dinner and it was just the two of us. And then we went back to my house, which was on 62nd street. And he said, “I have a gift I would like to give you. And he said “I just want to make sure that, you know, when I had my first exhibit in New York City in ‘81”, I think it was, he said, “I did a juxtaposition of a photograph of you” which he drew actually, it was from a photograph. And next and next to that photograph of me was an illustration of a naked man. So he did an illustration of me, and then he did an illustration of a naked man. And he was basically making a comment on pop iconography and sexuality. And so he did this drawing and this was part of his first exhibit. And he didn’t know if I’d ever seen it. And he said, “I want you to know that, I apologize if you think it is at all… You’re at all insulted by it” because it was a picture of me from the Calvin Klein ads that drew a picture of a naked man. And he said, “I just don’t want you to, you’re very sweet. I really like you. We’ve become friends and I just don’t want you to feel insulted by this earlier work that I did.” Of course I said, “How could I possibly be insulted? You were making a comment on the culture at the time, it wasn’t personal towards me.” And I said, “Thank you so much. I appreciate it.” I I didn’t know he was dying at the time, but he knew he was. And so I just said, “Oh my gosh, oh my, I do not feel insulted. Thank you so much for telling me that and thank you for dinner.” And then he gave me this wrapped painting. And it was a painting of Buddha leaning against a tree. And he said, “I did this painting at the same time, in the similar era of when I do the painting of when I did the drawing of you. I just want you to have this.” And he signed it on the back with this beautiful message. And that was the last time I saw him. And he passed away not long after that.

[Lilly Reed]: A wonderful extension of Brooke’s friendship with Keith is the legacy that she holds with her own art collection, owning three Harings, honoring his different identities – Keith Haring the person, Keith Haring the artist, and Keith Haring the political activist.

[Rowan]: Wow 

[Brooke]: That painting is in daddy’s office. 

[Rowan]: I was going to say, “Where’s that one now?”

[Brooke]:The one over his life to the right of his couch? Yeah. I mean, if you look at

the back of it, it’s to me. 

[Rowan]: Wow. You also have one above your bed, right?

[Brooke]: The one above my bed, and the one above the fireplace are the ones that my mom took from the photo shoot. She was like, “I will take this and I will take this” and I was like, “Why are you taking the props, Mom?” She said, “Trust me.” 

[Rowan]: Because it’s a Keith Haring.

[Brooke]: He was Keith Haring, but he wasn’t the same Keith Haring in the ‘80s that he is now. 

[Rowan]: That he is now, yeah.

[Brooke]: He was just a really wonderful person. He was the first person to take graffiti art, he was a graffiti artist. He like when you went down, so every day when I went to try going on the highway. There was a wall when you were going back into the city, and it was a wall where they play handball. And it said “crack is whack”. And it was in the eighties, and it was when I was going to high school, and crack is whack was one of the first kind of anti-drug campaign, but he was a graffiti artist. And the fact that there was a graffiti artist talking about crack being whack, meaning bad. 

[Rowan]: Yeah, understood! 

[Brooke]: I thought I would put it into my old lady terms. But, it was one of those things that my mom would say “That guy is an artist, he’s gonna be, he is a real artist.” I don’t know how she knew it. And this is like literally nine years before I, you know, maybe a few years less, but a few years before I ever even met him. And so he was a graffiti artist and he did graffiti art in the subways. And then the crack is whack was one of the first major things that people hooked into. It was the first time a graffiti artist had become renowned. And by the way he died, but he didn’t become famous because he died. A lot of, a lot of artists became famous posthumously. I mean, he just, he was one of a kind.

[Lilly]: I want to thank Rowan and Brooke for sharing this intimate conversation and marking an important role that the Wake Forest community continues to play in pop cultural history.