On the wall behind the DJ booth at the former Ars Studio club in Barcelona is a little-known piece of street art history: a mural by none other than Keith Haring, the graffiti artist and activist known for raising awareness of the HIV/AIDS crisis through his unique, punchy iconography. Painted in 1989, a year before Haring’s death from AIDS-related complications, the mural of a dancing flower-headed figure faced an unlikely fate when the building’s current owners announced their decision to demolish the structure and build a home for seniors in its place.
Responding to mounting calls to preserve the mural, Barcelona’s city council has stepped in to salvage the work, appealing to Catalonia’s regional government for its preservation.
“We have guaranteed the mural’s protection under the special urban plan and have asked the Generalitat to declare it as part of our cultural heritage,” a spokesperson for the city council told the Guardian.
Ars Studio, an iconic club frequented by DJs such as César de Melero, Spain’s “godfather of house,” shuttered in 1992 and now houses a billiards room called Billares Ars. Haring visited the venue during a visit to Barcelona in February 1989, when he also painted his larger and better-known mural “Todos juntos podemos parar el sida” (1989) — “Together We Can Stop AIDS” — near the Museu d’Art Contemporani de Barcelona (MACBA) in El Raval, a neighborhood deeply afflicted by the epidemic.
One night, Haring showed up at Ars Studio with leftover red paint from the mural and asked De Melero to clear a wall for him to paint.
“The place was packed, so I put on a record and pushed through the crowd,” De Melero said. “And there he was with his saintly, innocent face and I told the doorman to let him in and I said to the boss: ‘Champagne for Keith Haring.’”
“This painting should stay where it is,” he added. “First it was in a night club, then a billiard hall, now a care home. Why not?”
“Luckily, no one ever painted over it over the years,” Gil Vazquez, acting director of the Keith Haring Foundation, told Hyperallergic. “We’re very happy to hear that the local government is considering stepping in to protect the mural deeming it culturally significant and worthy of government protection.”