From Italy to Amsterdam: how Keith Haring’s mural will be restored

Translated from the Italian (Serena Gandolfi)

A dog-snake topped by a man appeared on the wall of one of Amsterdam Food Center’s buildings on Jan van Galenstraat. It is one of the largest murals by Keith Haring, a pop-art legend and disciple of Andy Warhol, who, since the 1980s, has left his indelible mark on street art worldwide.

About 23x28m are its dimensions, and was a gift from the artist to the creative community of the Dutch capital. Between 1984 and 1989 Haring traveled around Europe, leaving his signature and provoking passers-by with his drawings that spoke of AIDS, capitalism, and apartheid, as well as other social struggles of the time.

In 1986, the artist collaborated with the Stedelijk Museum and, in addition to a huge sheet displayed on the ceiling of its central hall, asked to make another mural. He was granted the 32m of the wall of the then Stedelijk storage warehouse. Here, in just one day, he hoisted on a “cherry picker” and created the mural signed “XXXKH8”.

Shortly afterward, the museum left the warehouses to the west of the city and the mural was forgotten.

30 years in the dark

“The community has not been able to enjoy it for a long time; the warehouse had always had humidity problems and in 1988 it was entirely covered with aluminum sheets” Caterina Soliani, a student at the Academy of Fine Arts in Macerata who, together with the restoration team of Professor Antonio Rava, will be working on the project; a project that will be part of her degree thesis, told 31mag.

Keith Haring Mural-Amsterdam-restoration-post1

Caterina, assisted by Professor Antonio Rava and a Dutch team, participated in the removal of the aluminum sheets from the facade of the building, bringing the mural back to light after 30 years. “When we removed the panels we did not know what to expect, the condition is good but the drawing must be resumed,” she says to 31mag. “If we did not intervene, the mural would risk disappearing in a few years. The type of pictorial film used, in fact, revealed several problems.

Antonio Rava and William Shank

The restoration project was made possible thanks to the collaboration between the Keith Haring Foundation and the Stedelijk Museum. The intervention was carried out by the Italian Antonio Rava and William Shank, restorers of contemporary art. Both experts in the restoration of works by the New York artist and had previously collaborated in the recovery of “Tuttomondo” in Pisa, as well as murals of Haring in Melbourne and Paris.

“The samples were also taken in Italy, in Pisa”, Caterina explains, “To determine what kind of intervention was necessary, the samples were evaluated by Perla Colombini, one of the most famous chemists in the country”.

Conservative restoration and nano-technologies

“The restoration done will be conservative”, explains the student: “it will not be too invasive: the pictorial film must be consolidated on the support, in this case, the wall, and some touches will be made where necessary”. “The most important thing, however, will be to put a protective layer to isolate the mural from the sudden changes in humidity and the unstable climate of Amsterdam. The protection must be insulating, but it must allow the wall to “breathe”. That’s why we were thinking about the concept of “nano restore”. This is an innovation in the artistic field: we would use materials made of nano-particles, light and suitable for temperature changes”.

The starting dates of the intervention have not yet been established. There is talk about September 2018 and it will probably take 4 weeks. “It’s not a very long time,” says Caterina, “the work is completely made in white, you have to try to see what the yellowing of time is due to. It could be given by the alkyd resin used, containing oil; this could have polymerized. Or it could be the red bricks of the building that have released some dust”.


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