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Renewal at the Palm Springs Art Museum

November 8, 2008 |  5:07 am

Today, less than a week after California voters chose to enshrine discrimination against homosexuals in the state constitution, the Palm Springs Art Museum opens "Against All Odds: Keith Haring in the Rubell Family Collection." (The show is on view through Jan. 18). Just beyond an 8-foot-tall Day-Glo fiberglass Statue of Liberty, covered in black graffiti in collaboration with tagger LA II, the Rubell's most Keith_haring3 beautiful Haring work dominates the modest show's main room. A monumental 1982 drawing in black and red acrylic on a 15-foot-square white tarp, the joyful image shows two male figures dancing with arms aloft before an enormous red heart. It radiates above them like a life-enhancing sun.

The male dancers are like pagan idol worshipers celebrating before a simple icon representing love. Drawing is the most direct and unencumbered expression of artistic thought, and Haring's clear, concise graphic style asserts the primal power of emotional union. In matters of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, human constitution will trump a state constitution every time.

The Palm Springs show inaugurates what is planned as an ongoing relationship between the museum and the Rubell Family Collection, an extensive holding of contemporary art begun in 1964 and open to the public since 1996 in a Miami warehouse. It also marks the completion of Phase II of a much-needed renovation of the museum's dowdy, crowded exhibition spaces, undertaken since the arrival last year of director Steven Nash. (A third and final phase begins next year.) Gone is the carpet and the clutter, replaced by hardwood floors, raised ceilings and simplified displays. Boarded up windows have been uncovered in the classic Palm Springs Modern building, designed in the 1970s by E. Stewart Williams.

The handsome result is certainly welcome. Given the timing of election results and the inaugural Haring show, it is also inescapably bittersweet.

-- Christopher Knight

Photo: "Untitled," 1982, Estate of Keith Haring, Rubell Family Collection; by Christopher Knight