Fans of Keith Haring’s work can see his graffiti images of dancing figures, barking dogs, glowing infants, and flying saucers in museums and cities across America. But according to NPR, one of the late American artist's lesser-known public works—a stairwell mural inside a former New York City convent—is now in danger.
Haring painted the mural inside the Grace House, a home for Catholic teenagers on Manhattan’s Upper West Side, between 1983 and 1984. The artist was scouting locations for a film, and Grace House asked him to decorate the stairwell. By then, Haring was already famous, but he obliged and covered the walls with his signature radiant babies, dancers, and dogs. The entire project was completed so quickly that viewers can still see paint drips on the walls.
Keith Haring died from AIDS-related complications in 1990—six or so years after painting the Grace House mural—at the age of 31. Today, it’s one of less than 30 worldwide public works created by Haring. Soon, this number might drop even lower: A local church, the Church of the Ascension, owns Grace House—and thanks to financial difficulties, its officials want to sell it.
Most of Grace House’s tenants have moved out, but two tenants named Robert Savina and Yana Sabeva have hired a local law non-profit to help them fight eviction. They want to stay in their homes—and they also worry about the mural’s future.
"My fear, and I think other people's fear, is that if they sell the building that anybody could go in and tear the building down," Savina told NPR. "There didn't seem to be ... any forethought in: How do we preserve the mural?"
For now, the work’s future is in limbo: The Church hasn’t sold Grace House yet, but tenants say that realtors are showing it to prospective buyers.
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