The most recent restoration of Keith Haring’s iconic “Crack is Wack” mural is now complete, following a months-long process. Originally painted in 1986, the two-sided work has undergone a series of restorations over the years, with artists Louise Hunnicutt and William Tibbals carrying out the latest comprehensive repairs to address wear and tear.
“The ‘Crack is Wack’ mural is a testament to the enduring power of Haring’s art, which arose first in public spaces,” Jonathan Kuhn, NYC Parks director of arts and antiquities, said in a statement.
Rendered in Haring’s signature cartoonish style, the safety-orange colored mural depicts a cautionary warning against the use of crack-cocaine and was prompted by the late artist’s studio assistant, Benny, who battled with addiction.
“Inspired by Benny,” Haring once said of the mural, “and appalled by what was happening in the country, but especially New York, and seeing the slow reaction (as usual) of the government to respond, I decided I had to do an anti-crack painting.”
Haring created the mural on an abandoned 16-by-26 foot handball court near the intersection of East 128th Street and Second Avenue, where it was visible from Franklin D. Roosevelt Drive. Painted without permission, Haring was arrested at the scene shortly after the mural was completed — though he was ultimately let go and charged only a small fine. The mural immediately drew media attention and was used to help illustrate stories about the drug crisis.
“We are thrilled that ‘Crack Is Wack’ has been restored to its original glory,” said Gil Vazquez, acting director and president of the Keith Haring Foundation. “It is a huge source of pride for our city and a lasting reminder of Keith’s legacy and political activism.”
The piece — in addition to the Carmine Street Pool Mural — is one of two public works by the artist housed on land owned by NYC Parks.
In November, a mural by Haring, preserved inside of the Catholic youth center Grace House, will make its auction debut, marking the first time that such a work by the artist has gone to the block. The mural, sliced out of the Grace House stairwell and worth an estimated $3 million to $5 million, will be on view at Bonhams auction house from Nov. 2 through Nov. 13.
The “Crack is Wack” mural is free and open to the public at the Crack is Wack Playground in Harlem.
Top Image: Keith Haring's "Crack is Wack" mural, 1986. Photo: NYC Parks.