In the year In 2004, while biking in Kutztown, Pennsylvania, Scott and Angela Garner came upon their dream home: a brick Victorian house with shutters on the windows and a wide front porch.
Inside was something completely unexpected. On the wall of a small downstairs room was a five-inch painting above the light switch. Painted in gold against a bright blue background in his childhood bedroom, Radiant Baby is one of the most recognizable images of the hugely successful 1980s pop artist and activist Keith Haring.
The woman who bought the house from the Haring family and later sold it to Garner is almost pictured. But at the last minute, she kept Radiant Baby as she changed the room’s decor from blue to pale yellow.
“All these years it was hidden in this house, completely unknown,” says art historian Christine Oakland.
Next month, the image – now cut from the wall in a panel that includes the light switch – will be put up for auction. A pre-sale estimate was not released by New Jersey Auctions Rago/Wrights, but the record for a Haring artwork was -1982 for an untitled painting -6.5 million.
“Radiant Baby is Haring’s label, it’s his signature,” Oakland said. “What makes this amazing is its authenticity. It is unusual because it is painted in gold, and Haring is usually white on black, or black on any substrate. I don’t want to say it’s special, but it’s rare.”
Painted on a visit to his family after the artist moved to New York, the painting, thought to date from the early 1980s, quickly gained a following and financial success.
In New York, Haring became involved in an alternative art community based on the city’s streets and subways rather than galleries and museums. He became friends with Jean-Michel Basquiat and Kenny Scharf and began painting disused billboards in the city’s subway stations, sometimes creating 40 images a day. The subway became a “laboratory” for testing, he said.
Haring is internationally recognized and his work has been featured in over 100 exhibitions. He has created more than 50 works of public art around the world, many with social messages, but he has also done commercial work, including designs for Swatch watches and an advertising campaign for Absolut Vodka.
In the year In 1986, he opened Pop Shop in Soho, selling merchandise featuring his images. He said the goal was to make his work accessible to people at a lower cost, but many in the art world criticized the organization.
Two years later, Haring was diagnosed with AIDS and established the Keith Haring Foundation to provide funding for AIDS organizations and other social causes. He died in 1990 at the age of 31.
“He was a brave and wonderful man,” Oakland said. “At the time of isolation, it was clear that there was AIDS. He raised money for a foundation to support a cause he believed in.
In 2004, when the Garners knocked on the door to express their interest in buying the former Haring family home, the current owner revealed that there was a painting in one room believed to be by Keith Haring.
“Our hearts started beating really fast,” said social worker Angela Garner. We were disappointed that a world famous artist lived in the house.
The couple invited Keith’s father, Allen Haring, who still lives in Kutztown, to their home. The boy drew the picture and signed a letter of authenticity.
The Garners kept the painting in a glass panel and treasured it for 18 years. “He’s been a part of our family for a long time, but we always thought we could part with him,” said Scott Garner, a limousine driver. “There’s not a lot of foot traffic in our house.”
“It feels like it’s in a museum,” Angela Garner said. History tells us, it’s part of Keith Haring’s childhood.” Proceeds from the sale will help pay for their son’s college expenses.
The couple said it was a sad moment when they removed part of the wall and headed to the auction house. “But it’s exciting to think that one day we’ll be able to see it in New York or Paris or Japan,” Scott Garner said.