Keith Haring, the performance and visual artist who made a name for himself by scribbling whimsical chalk figures on subway walls, boasted a well-documented coterie of creative friends working in 1980s New York City. Pop singer Madonna, visionary graffiti artist Jean-Michel Basquiat, and Pop Art icon and party-thrower Andy Warhol all numbered among Haring’s confidantes.
As it turns out, Haring’s circle left its mark on both his artwork and his kitchen appliances.
In 1990, an unnamed woman rented a “spacious railroad apartment” that had once belonged to Haring after coming across an ad in the Village Voice. (The renter has chosen to keep her identity anonymous, reports James Barron for the New York Times.) Entering the property—located at 325 Broome Street—she discovered that Haring’s famous friends had covered his refrigerator door with more than 82 messages and signatures.
That same door sold last Wednesday for $25,000, according to digital marketplace LiveAuctioneers. Guernsey’s Auctions coordinated the sale, which also featured a mounted moose head that once belonged to Warhol and an annotated map of Central Park created by installation artists Christo and Jeanne-Claude.
Per a statement, Haring’s friends often visited his SoHo apartment, where “many would find themselves seated in [his] raucous kitchen. At the side, and as clearly seen in surviving photographs, was the apartment’s modest two-door Lantz refrigerator,” which featured a small upper freezer and a large, 40.5- by 22.75-inch enameled door—an inviting canvas for anyone who came calling.
Pop art and graffiti maestros such as Futura, Fab 5 Freddy, Rammellzee, Warhol and Madonna covered the fridge door with “a cacophony of signatures, tags and designs covering every inch of this both ordinary and extraordinary item,” notes the statement.
“There are quite a few pictures of Keith with this fridge, so it’s unmistakable,” Guernsey’s president, Arlan Ettinger, tells Will Pavia of the London Times.
Madonna inscribed the door with an unmistakable note: “Madonna Loves Keith.” Ettinger tells the New York Times that he suspects another signature consisting of the letters “JM” is the handiwork of Jean-Michel Basquiat—but “there’s absolutely no way of confirming” his hunch for sure.
“It seemed like everybody who was anybody showed up [at Haring’s apartment],” Ettinger tells the New York Times, “and you signed in on that refrigerator door. It’s not beautiful, but it’s of that moment, of that time.”
As the anonymous seller notes in the statement, the property’s walls were once similarly covered in graffiti, but the landlord painted them over before she moved in.
Haring’s vibrant life and friendships—recorded forever on his refrigerator door—were cut short when he died of AIDS in 1990 at just 31 years old. The seller moved into the artist’s former apartment shortly before his death, and she and her roommate continued to receive mail addressed to Haring—such as invitations to art openings, galas, film festivals and more—long after he died.
One day, the seller returned home on a hot summer day to find that the appliance had “conked out” and was being replaced. She raced outside to rescue the fridge door from the sidewalk, where the delivery men had left it to be picked up with the garbage, as she recalls in the statement.
When the seller moved to California, she stored Haring’s door in her parent’s house, where it was “wrapped carefully in a quilt.” Since her parents cleaned out their attic in 2010, the woman has kept the refrigerator door in her San Francisco home.
“I have loved looking after this amazing piece of history, this map of the 1980’s New York City art scene, where so many talented artists converged,” she says.