Mural lead proves no red Haring
We talk to Jessica Hochberg in Arts Victoria’s Cultural Infrastructure team about her mammoth Nancy Drew effort that saw the missing piece of Collingwood’s iconic Keith Haring mural, lost for 30 years, turn up on Arts Victoria’s doorstep.
Arts Victoria is involved in providing wide-ranging support for the arts all over the state, but it’s not every day that we get to witness history unfold. With the finding of the missing door to the Keith Haring mural in Collingwood, our colleague Jessica Hochberg has managed to accomplish just that.
The late New York artist Keith Haring travelled to Australia in 1984 to produce a series of public art projects in Sydney and Melbourne. This included painting a mural at what was then the Collingwood Technical School, as well as a temporary mural on the NGV water wall.
Soon after the mural was painted, the signature piece – a wooden door on which Haring painted his signature along with his trademark baby figure – disappeared. It was considered long gone until Hochberg got an exciting lead.
“As part of our work looking at potential future uses of the Collingwood site, we took a group of people from art organisations through, including Kelly Fliedner, who is Program Curator at West Space. Kelly then posted some images of the site onto Instagram,” Hochberg says.
“An artist who exhibits at West Space commented on one of the photos that he used to live at the site, and I thought, ‘Oh wow, we have no records of artists living in that space.’ So I followed it up with an email asking him about how he came to live there, and he wrote this really lovely email back about his residency there and how it helped him with his career.”
The artist dropped the big news almost subliminally, unaware of its significance.
“At the end of this email, he just had a little line which said, ‘Hey, I heard at a party that my friend’s friend has this Keith Haring door’, and I was just like, whoa! I have to pursue this,” says Hochberg.
After trying to contact the artist via email a couple of times, Hochberg decided to take matters into her own hands
“I asked Kelly for his phone number and called him and explained what it would mean to have the missing door back. I think then he realised what a big deal it was, and gave me the email address of his friend.
“I emailed the friend and outlined Arts Victoria’s project at the site to conserve the mural, and how having the door back would not only complete it, but would also contribute to the conservation process of a piece of art that was always meant for the public by Haring. When I got no response back, I wrote another email where I stated that I was sure the keeper of the mural door had probably taken really good care of it and was likely to be in better condition than the rest of the mural.”
When her plea went unanswered, Hochberg found herself at a dead end – but then the unexpected happened.
“I left it alone for a while after the holiday season hit… and then in February, it just turned up at Arts Victoria reception with my name on it!”
Despite the magnitude of the find, Hochberg insists she was just doing her job.
“As a state government department, we have a responsibility to look after the arts facilities we manage. Arts facilities are critical to the culture of the state -if you don’t have facilities, you don’t have anywhere to create, develop and present work..
“The mural just comes as part of that responsibility. It was like any other project – get a conservation management plan done, consult the experts and the community… so yeah, just business as usual, really.”
Hochberg says she would have conducted any project she works on with the same tenacity – but is excited by her work on the mural conservation project.
“I wouldn’t say I’m any more passionate about this project than any others, other than I’m a big fan of the mural like everyone else. That said, [the conservation of the mural is] a really exciting project and I think the art itself is a bit underrated. I mean, we’ve got this hugely significant work entirely by the hand of an internationally prominent artist in original condition in Collingwood. So as a public artwork it should be more widely recognised for the important piece of art history that it is.
“I’m a fan of Haring and it’s exciting to play a part in something as fabulous as seeing a missing work that’s been gone for 30 years returned to the state, and know that it will go back to its intended place to be enjoyed by everyone.
“The moment of elation unwrapping the door and realising something so significant had been returned, was definitely sensational.
Find out more about Arts Victoria's project to conserve the mural.
Here is some further information about the Collingwood mural.
Find out more about Haring on the Keith Haring Foundation website.
Watch the video below of Haring painting the mural in 1984: