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Pop Yankers

The mystery of the priced-to-sell Keith Haring bathroom tiles.

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Artist Keith Haring, who died of aids in 1990 after his eroto-squiggly Pop Art became a high-ticket craze, would have been 49 last Friday. Were he alive, he’d be able to tell us if he, and not an impostor, had scrawled, Haring style, all over a small white TV set and a trove of tiles recently sold to producer Daniel Kellison. He shelled out $400 apiece for 34 tiles and another $3,800 for the TV after spying them at funky Soho shop Bess, in the former space of Haring’s longtime Pop Shop. According to Kellison, shop owner Doug Abraham told him the store had acquired the pieces from artist Boris Tellegen, a.k.a. Delta, who supposedly was a pal of Haring’s.

“They told me they couldn’t say for sure that they were Haring’s, but they were trying to get the pieces authenticated through the Keith Haring Foundation,” says Kellison, who produces Crank Yankers and ought to be able to sense if someone’s leading him on. “I just had a gut feeling they were real.” They certainly looked real, and Abraham told him it was his understanding that they were from Dudley Moore’s former home in California. Kellison showed Sotheby’s print-department head, Mary Bartow, photos of the work, and she found them plausible. “I told him to get it authenticated,” says Bartow.

But, says Kellison, he lost that feeling once a friend who had been close to Haring doubted the items. “He said they felt like ‘Haring’s Greatest Hits’—too much iconic art in one place,” says Kellison. Further research into Moore’s house indicated the Haring tiles hadn’t been removed. Abraham said he’d refund Kellison’s nearly $18,000, and Kellison accepted. The shop did not return calls last Thursday, but a visit there that day found the TV sitting behind the cash register and the tiles nowhere in sight. A man behind the counter said none of the work was for sale. Meanwhile, Haring Foundation head Julia Gruen says the tiles still haven’t been submitted for authentication. Bartow estimates that the tiles, if truly Haring’s work, are probably worth more than $100,000 apiece. And that’s not even including the TV.

Have good intel? Send tips to intel@nymag.com.


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