From the Collection of Swen Swenson

Swen Swenson was a classically trained dancer, best known for his work on Broadway and television. He also loved art, he had the world’s largest collection of carousel figures, and he bred and raised Yorkies for over forty years (the present lot is a portrait of one his cherished canines). But, above all, Swen was an activist, and although passionate about many causes, he was a relentless advocate in the fight against AIDS. Among his many philanthropic acts, he was known to spend his weekends on Santa Monica Boulevard raising money for the disease by letting people pet his “gay” dog, Fever, for one dollar.

Swen with Fever, 1991

Swen met Keith Haring in the 1980s and took the artist to his first ACT UP meeting in New York. The two maintained a close friendship until the artist’s death in 1990 and Swen continued to champion and support Haring until his own death from an AIDS-related illness in 1993. Bound by a commitment to fight the disease, the two shared a unique bond, illustrated in the loving correspondence and thoughtful letters he sent to Keith before his death. In one such note, Swen writes, “Dear Keith, There’s an awful lot of love from so many people surrounding you to help you pull through this. So, hang in there, Buddy!” The card is signed with love from Swen, Fever, and his two Yorkies, Stash and Popcorn. 

Keith Haring 1958–1990

Keith Haring was born in 1958 in Reading, Pennsylvania. From a young age he enjoyed drawing, especially Disney characters and other cartoons. He initially wanted to become a commercial artist but after a year at the Ivy School of Professional Art in Pittsburgh, Haring dropped, moved to New York City and enrolled in the School of Visual Arts (SVA). Haring immediately felt connected to the thriving alternative arts scene happening downtown in the late 1970s and became friends with Jean-Michel Basquiat and Kenny Scharf.

Inspired by the ideals of “art as life” and moving the art experience out of galleries and into the streets, Haring’s first major works were his subway drawings. Haring produced over one hundred of these public works between 1980 and 1985, integrating his now-iconic exuberant, cartoonish outlined figures into everyday public space in a way that directly engaged its viewers. Haring recalled that the most important aspects of these works was the immediate engagement people had with them, asking him “what does it mean?” and giving him feedback that he’d then incorporate into future drawings. In this way, these works became reflections of the people who viewed them, responsive to and in dialogue with their environment. These works quickly garnered the attention of tastemakers in New York and his first solo exhibition was held at Westbeth Painters Space in 1981 and a celebrated show debuted at the high-profile Tony Shafrazi Gallery in New York the following year.

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Upcoming Lots Keith Haring

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