The Keith Haring Mural Inside Brooklyn’s Woodhull Hospital


Hospitals might not be the first place you think about when to see works by famous contemporary artists, but NYC Health + Hospitals / Woodhull has not one but two Keith Haring murals. The murals are part of New York City’s largest public art collection, a collection of over 3,000 works curated by NYC Health + Hospitals. As a lawyer who believed that art should be accessible to everyone, Haring donated the murals in 1986. In Untapped New York’s upcoming interview with Linh Dang, senior director of the Arts in Medicine program at NYC Health + Hospitals, she will discuss how Haring is contributing to the new York City health system is part of a tradition that dates back to the 1930s and is continued today by the Community Mural Project.

In a suggestion for the Woodhull mural, Haring explains his inspiration for the piece. While visiting the hospital, he noticed a boundary running around the lobby, “an intricate part of the architecture” that he wanted to “embellish with a frieze of characters”. The characters are “very simple human and animal figures, dancing, playing, break dancing, etc.” outlined in thick black paint with bright splashes of primary colors. Since the 700 foot mural is the first thing patients see when entering the hospital, Haring wanted the design to be “positive, uplifting, unaggressive, imaginative and calming.”

Woodhull Hospital Keith Haring mural

Haring’s parade of playful figures goes down two corridors that branch off from the main lobby. The hallway murals are only black and white but have more detail than the lobby mural. While the lobby figures have abstract shapes, the hall figures have details such as faces and clothing. Haring spent a whole week in Bed Stuy Hospital to finish the murals. During his downtime, he made contact with hospital staff, patients, visitors and fans. He happily signed autographs and made little drawings for anyone who asked.

Keith Haring mural in Woodhull HospitalPhoto by Rick Luftglass

According to the Brooklyn Daily Eagle, Haring created more than fifty murals for hospitals, daycare, charities, and orphanages during the AIDS epidemic of the 1980s. The Keith Haring mural in NYC Health + Hospitals / Woodhull is now valued at millions of dollars. In 2018, a $ 20,000 restoration project was carried out by art curators Helen Im and Suyeon Kim. The restoration included repairs to water-damaged areas of the painting and touching up the paint on the Keith Haring mural.

Murals first appeared in New York hospitals in the 1930s when the Depression-era Works Progress Administration commissioned hundreds of them for New York City’s public hospital system. Throughout the century, hospitals and organizations continued to commission murals, sometimes by famous artists such as Kenny Scharf. Today, the wall tradition continues with the Community Mural Project run by the NYC Health + Hospitals Arts in Medicine program and funded by the Laurie M. Tisch Illumination Fund.

Keith Haring murals in the corner of Woodhull Hospital

The Community Mural Project makes it easy to create collaborative art pieces that bring together healthcare workers, patients, artists, and local residents. Each group plays an important role in every step of the creation process, from designing the mural to actually painting! Launched in 2019, the project has already added 16 new murals in hospitals across New York City with the aim of adding more. The aim of the program is to “re-introduce hospitals and promote better well-being in the neighborhood”. The Community Mutal Project was more important than ever in 2020 as the murals helped fight caregiver fatigue and boost the spirits of frontline workers in the depths of the COVID-19 pandemic.

You can see more of KetihHaring’s work at NYC Health + Hospitals / Harlem. In 2019, RxArt, in collaboration with the Keith Haring Foundation, created a wall sticker for the hospital waiting room with a design created by Haring. In 2020 the artist Imani Shanklin Roberts contributed a new mural for the exterior of NYC Health + Hospitals / Woodhull and joined the mural created by Keith Haring over thirty years ago. The Illumination Fund website is a great place to see all of the places where community murals have been added in the past two years. Arts in Medicine will soon launch an open call for artists to create murals in 2021 and local residents to join focus groups and painting parties.

Image courtesy NYC Health + Hospitals

In our upcoming conversation with Linh Dang, Senior Director of H + Hs Arts in Medicine, and Rick Luftglass, Executive Director of the Laurie M. Tisch Illumination Fund, discover more amazing works of art visible throughout the NYC Health + Hospitals system. Linh and Rick will talk about the development of the Community Mural Project, share behind the scenes some of the most interesting pieces of the program, discuss plans for 2021 and let you know how to get involved!

This upcoming virtual talk is organized for Untapped New York Insider. Not an insider yet? Become a member today and get two months free with the code JOINUS. Then membership is only $ 10 per month. A video of the lecture will then be made available to all our insiders in the video archive section of our website. Already an insider, register here!


Next, check out 8 places to see Keith Haring’s artwork in NYC and New York Check out Keith Haring’s last NYC apartment

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