Keith Haring’s greatest masterpiece is hidden in an old men’s bathroom in NYC

You surely know Keith Haring’s work from his effervescent stickish figures decorating everything from floor-to-ceiling walls to T-shirts to coffee mugs to earrings. But inside the second-floor men’s bathroom at the LGBT Community Center on West 13th Street in downtown Manhattan you’ll find what many consider his most risque work ever.

Alexxa Gotthardt over at recently had a chance to check out the bathroom.

Gotthardt describes:

From just outside the bathroom, the corner of a painting was visible through a frosted glass bathroom door that’d been left ajar. It shows an erect penis emanating Haring’s signature squiggles.

Then you step inside and…


The installation, which features no shortage of cartoon penises, butts, sperms and scrotums, was painted by Haring over the course of several days in 1989 and is titled Once Upon a Time.

Goddhardt explains:

Haring titled the piece Once Upon a Time, a nod to the gay community’s halcyon days of free love. Over the course of several days, he covered every un-tiled surface of the bathroom with turgid, squirting penises of all sizes. Some are attached to buff male bodies tangled together in pleasure. Others float like happy clouds or hungry dragons. One impressively large specimen hovers over a line of small figures who are either dancing the conga or enjoying an orgy.

The bathroom isn’t actually a functioning lavatory. The sinks and toilets were removed decades ago and it was closed off for many years. It wasn’t until 2012 that the center restored the mural and opened it to the public for viewing.

Today, it serves as a monument to Haring and, as Glennda Testone, the LGBTQ Community Center’s Executive Director, says, his “vision of a world before AIDS—a celebration of gay male sexuality and resiliency at a time when mainstream America was quite terrified of gay male sexuality.”

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