Mark Byrnes is a former senior associate editor at CityLab who writes about design and architecture.
Three decades after the beloved New York artist visited a school in Melbourne, the mural he made has finally been conserved after significant decay.
Welcome to the latest installation of “Public Access,” where CityLab shares its favorite videos—old and new, serious and nutty—that tell a story about place.
Earlier this year in Amsterdam, a mural painted in 1986 year by the late artist Keith Haring was uncovered along a brick wall hidden behind aluminum insulation panels for years. Forgotten or unknown to most locals three decades after its completion, the mural’s discovery has been a source of excitement.
It’s just one of the 32 known public murals around the world done by Haring, whose playful, socially conscious paintings endure as symbols of New York City’s exciting arts scene of the 1980s. The artist died at age 31 in 1990.
But in Melbourne, a Haring mural nearly faded into obscurity without ever being hidden by a misguided makeover.
As retold in Keith Haring Uncovered, a 2015 documentary by the Australian Broadcast Corporation, the artist’s celebrated visit to the Collingwood Technical School resulted in a stunning mural depicting a giant caterpillar with a computer for a head and a mass of humans trying to climb up to it. Haring’s charm and ease around kids is obvious in the documentary’s archival footage. Former students and teachers tracked down 30 years later still remember him fondly.
Collingwood was an industrial, blue-collar neighborhood when Haring arrived, but gentrification has swept through recently, filling it up with art galleries and expensive real estate. The school closed in 1987. In 2004, the mural was added to the Victorian Heritage Register but it continued to deteriorate. A concerned local stole the small wooden door that contained Haring’s signature to spare it from further decay. In 2010, Creative Victoria, a state agency that advocates for local creative industries, took over management of the site and an effort to conserve the mural began as part of a plan to make the former school into the new Collingwood Arts Precinct.
Today, the mural looks as fresh as it ever has, restored in 2014 by Antonio Rava, who is now responsible for the same task in Amsterdam. The anonymous door thief—one of the more rewarding interviews in Uncovered—returned the prized possession to its right place knowing that the mural’s fate appears to be in good hands now.