High up among the stars, red and green dancers wriggle. They squiggle across the upturned belly of a writhing, orange snake, itself carried aloft by two bold stick figures. It’s obviously a Keith Haring work. Or at least it looks like one. But in case you had questions, a golden plaque beside it announces, “Called Fake By The Haring Foundation Without Even Examining the Painting.”
Evoking an ancient cosmology, “The Snake” (1985) adorns the lobby of Soho’s newly opened Broome Hotel. The painting’s owner is Dr. Arthur Canario, a graying New Jersey surgeon who is father-in-law to one of the hotel’s owners. He says he doesn’t buy art to sell, but to enjoy, and his collection also includes works by Basquiat, Matisse, and several Haitian artists.
Dr. Canario purchased “The Snake” from collector Liz Bilinski last year. He also acquired seven other Keith Harings and three Basquiats from her over a three-year period. Bilinski bought the Haring in question in the mid-2000s from Delta Corteza, also known as Delta 2, one of Haring’s close friends and a fellow graffiti artist who started painting the subways in the early 1970s.
The owner told Hyperallergic that he knew about the painting’s contested provenance when he purchased it in early 2013, though he feels certain of its authenticity. “When I saw these paintings they struck me as beautiful, and I wanted them,” he said. “I knew that if they were authenticated as Harings I could never afford to buy them … I did get a little carried away.”
He claims that in 2007, the since-closed Lucas Schoormans Gallery in New York asked the Keith Haring Foundation to look at “The Snake” and several other works from the Bilinski collection for authentication, but they refused without offering an explanation. Executive Director Julie Gruen contrarily stated in 2011 that she had reviewed Bilinski’s paintings in 2007 and determined they were “inauthentic.” A private forensic expert in London has dated “The Snake” to the mid-1980s.
It’s a problem that’s plagued Haring enthusiasts almost as soon as the artist began painting. His signature squiggles have adorned everything from skateboards to baby bibs, all sold through his Pop Shop, and they have been pirated around the world. It was in part to deal with such authentication issues that Haring established his Foundation a year before his death from AIDS in 1989. But in September 2012, the nonprofit announced it would no longer authenticate artworks and focus instead on its other missions of protecting the artist’s intellectual property rights, making grants to educationally support underprivileged kids and promoting AIDS awareness.
When Dr. Canario bought the painting in early 2013, it was scheduled to be shown at the Haring Miami exhibit, which ran March 7–10 at the Moore Building in the Miami Design District. But before the show even opened, the Haring Foundation sued its organizers, claiming that the vast majority of the displayed works, many of which were for sale, were “poor quality fake Harings” or infringed Haring trademarks that would depreciate the value of “real Haring artwork” should they enter the market. Dr. Canario’s painting, along with 164 other works, was taken down. Visitors arrived to a gallery full of lonely painting hooks.
Now, it seems impossible to verify the possible legitimacy of paintings like Dr. Canario’s. They point to a problem that will continue to persist as many artist estates, including Warhol’s and Basquiat’s, refuse to authenticate artworks. Amid Haring’s swirling doodles, a question mark indefinitely forms.