Press Releases

Thursday, October 24, 2019
No. 101


Malcolm Pinckney / NYC Parks

NYC Parks and the Keith Haring Foundation are pleased to announce the restoration of Keith Haring’s “Crack is Wack.” The mural was refurbished and repainted by artists Louise Hunnicutt and William Tibbals, and the project was sponsored by the Keith Haring Foundation.

Famed “graffiti artist” Keith Haring (1958-1990) painted the fanciful mural, located at East 128th Street and the Harlem River Drive, in 1986. Painted on a handball court wall, the mural is composed of Haring’s signature kinetic figures and abstract forms in bold outlines. The mural cautions against crack cocaine, whose use reached epidemic proportions in the mid-to-late 1980s.

The “Crack is Wack” mural has been repainted with the same design on multiple occasions, most recently in 2012. The latest restoration was completed following a three-year reconstruction of portions of the Harlem River Drive adjacent to the mural. Much of the paint on the concrete wall was exfoliating, so Hunnicutt and Tibbals repainted the mural with a more durable paint system. The artists made precise tracings in sections of the designs on both wall faces, then mechanically removed all loose paint. The wall was then patched and properly sealed. Several base coats of fixative were applied, followed by base coats of color-matched paint. The design was then recreated using the tracings and consultation with original photographic documentation.

“The ‘Crack is Wack’ mural is a testament to the enduring power of Haring’s art, which arose first in public spaces,” said NYC Parks Director of Art & Antiquities Jonathan Kuhn. “We are grateful to the conservators and the Keith Haring Foundation for its continuing support to preserve this mural’s vibrancy and flair for all to see.”

“We are thrilled that ‘Crack Is Wack’ has been restored to its original glory,” said Keith Haring Foundation Acting Director and President Gil Vazquez. “It is a huge source of pride for our city and a lasting reminder of Keith’s legacy and political activism. We’d like to thank the Parks Department for its stewardship of the mural and park as well as Louise Hunnicut and her team for the great work on the restoration.”

Keith Haring was born on May 4, 1958 in Reading and grew up in Kutztown, Pennsylvania. In the early 1980s, the young artist first attained notoriety when he literally made his mark on New York City. Creating a style which would soon become renowned worldwide, Haring “tagged” the chalky outlines of buoyant interlocking bodies on the black poster mounts of the New York City subway stations. His vocabulary of images—such as the radiant child and barking dog—soon became instantly recognizable.

In addition to “Crack is Wack,” Haring painted a large mural on the outdoor pool wall at the Tony Dapolito Recreation Center (formerly known as the Carmine Recreation Center) in Lower Manhattan in 1987. Keith Haring died on February 16, 1990. Not yet 32 years old, he left a legacy of art which was popular on a universal level, and had also garnered widespread critical acclaim. The Haring Foundation, established in his memory, continues to support the causes he championed.

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