Keith Haring Products Redefine the Ability to Find Pleasure in Art

Obey x Keith Haring clothes (via urbanoutfitters.com)

Last week I got an email advertising a collaboration between Shepard Fairey’s apparel company OBEY and the Keith Haring Foundation, resulting in T-shirts, tank tops and baseball hats — including one shirt with an unsettling combination of Haring’s three-eyed face and Fairey’s OBEY graphic — sold at mall hipster mecca Urban Outfitters. This was enough to make me begin questioning the Keith Haring Foundation’s treatment of the artist’s legacy — and then I heard about the Tenga x Keith Haring sex toys.

Keith Haring sex toys
Yes, these are Keith Haring sex toys. (via tenga-global.com)

Strangely, the campaign was announced with a billboard in Times Square featuring a photograph of Haring next to images of the Haring-clad Egg and Cup series of male sex toys. Tenga, producers of “male pleasure items,” and the Keith Haring Foundation have redefined the ability to find pleasure in art.

One question that keeps popping up in my mind is: who are these marketed to — lonely art collectors? And another: why would the Haring Foundation agree to this? Even though Haring’s art unquestionably deals with sexuality, particularly his gay sexuality and the gay culture in New York during his life, Tenga didn’t choose his more sexual images. Instead, these “male masturbation enhancers,” as Bowery Boogie calls them, have the same cute and innocent images of radiant babies and angels as the Keith Haring baby bib. Who could have predicted that baby bibs and sex toys would come in the same pattern?

The Tenga collaboration also raises the very important question of what dead artist is slated next for a sex-toy line. Louise Bourgeois? Cy Twombly? Lucian Freud?


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