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LA II deserves his due: Tagger was key to Keith Haring’s art

BY CLAYTON PATTERSON | It is finally time to deal with the problem of Angel “LA II” Ortiz’s exclusion from the Keith Haring legacy.

I want to make the point that Keith Haring is not the problem. The problem did not arise until after he died. Angel always did and still does love Keith. They collaborated many times over the years. Angel was with Haring on his first art trips to Europe and Japan.

I want the Whitney Museum and Mr. Deitch to stand up and explain how they are not being racist. How many Puerto Rican artists have shown in the Whitney Museum of American Art? Angel’s work was in the Whitney’s memorial show right after Keith died — but his name was not.

A head that Haring and LAII collaborated on. You can see one of LA II’s alternate tags, “LA ROCK,” on the nose. There’s an “LA II” tag on the throat. (Courtesy Clayton Patterson)

It starts from Haring’s very first one-man show. LA II’s work was a major part of this show. Not a mention. He was on the poster and invitation card, a cute, unnamed little brown boy. The photographer, Tseng Kwong Chi, was named. Not Angel. An art critic I was talking to described the poster as being  in the vogue of the time, showing the “noble savage” in art. He was referring to Basquiat and Angel Ortiz.

Fab Five Freddy, right, with a vase that LA II collaborated on. (Courtesy Clayton Patterson)

LA II is from the Lower East Side. He had street cred. Keith was a naive kid from Pennsylvania, new to the city. A gay kid who wore glasses with dabs of paint on them and tight pants. LA got Keith a pass to go to the housing projects and to tag the local streets. He got permission from Rodney, who ran the CBS crew — not the TV station, the LES gang. Rodney also ran heroin from Houston St. to Sixth St. on Avenue D. (On my 8 Ball Radio show, I have an interview with Rodney about his history.)

Keith did a mural on the corner of Houston and Avenue D — the “Robot DJ.” Think about this for a minute, if you remember the old LES. Imagine a new jack white guy running around tagging the ’hood.

“LA ROCK” and “LA II” tags mix with Keith Haring babies and other figures in this collaborative piece. LA II also specialized in doing the infill squiggles. (Courtesy Clayton Patterson)

For almost 20 years I have not found anyone to deal with this racist issue of the exclusion of Angel Ortiz from the Keith Haring legacy. Nobody of any consequence has the internal strength to step up and deal with this “oversight.”

I did get one answer from Jeffrey Deitch. He said Angel’s contribution to Haring’s art was “work for hire,” not a collaboration.

That is cute. The house helper. That cute factor should have started to disappear once big money started to get involved — finally. There was an Uptown show called “The Art Of Collaboration,” from Sept. 17 to Oct. 20, 2018, at Venus Manhattan Gallery.

In 1997, a New York City museum guide’s cover art was a vase on which Keith Haring and LA II collaborated — but the guide only mentioned Haring. The other text on this image (“what is wrong with this picture?” and “?where is LA 2”) was added later by the writer. (Courtesy Clayton Patterson)

Angel was a part of the “Collaboration” exhibition. Not by name but at least by tag, LAII.  One of the collaboration pieces was used for the original poster, which did include LAII. And his graffiti tag was mixed in with a list of others who had tagged on Keith’s apartment refrigerator. The actual refrigerator was in the show.

From the show’s press release:

“The exhibition will feature collaboratively produced works by Jean-Michel Basquiat and Andy Warhol; Jean-Michel Basquiat and Keith Haring; Jean-Michel Basquiat, Keith Haring, Fab 5 Freddy, Futura, Eric Haze, LA II, Tseng Kwong Chi, Kenny Scharf, and others; John Currin and Rachel Feinstein; Robert Gober and Christopher Wool; Mark Grotjahn and Jonas Wood; Keith Haring and LA II; Richard Hell and Christopher Wool; Ed Kienholz and Nancy Reddin Kienholz; Jonathan Meese and Albert Oehlen; Tim Noble and Sue Webster; Claes Oldenburg and Coosje van Bruggen; and Anselm Reyle and Franz West, among others.”

The writer has been trying to help get LA II his due for years, including holding this gallery show in 2002. (Courtesy Clayton Patterson)

Meanwhile, the Keith Haring Foundation is playing the same tune.

“We recognize his work and respect the history of his collaboration,” said Julia Gruen, the foundation’s executive director, said of LA II. “He was compensated for all the work he did with Keith Haring, in Keith Haring’s lifetime.”

Look at the art pieces in this article and see if you can pick out LAII’s contributions.

5 Comments

  1. Monty Cantsin Monty Cantsin June 26, 2020

    Obviously it’s all about institutional authority and dealership power. They took LA2 for a little slave who served Keith with his markers under his commands (work for hire) and later got compensated not to complain. Sharing profit with him would have been too complicated. Typical exploitation that always characterized the art market and the whole system.

  2. Noah Webster Noah Webster June 26, 2020

    What happened to LA II is not racist. Such practices are common in the art world, going back centuries.

    Many of the great masters had interns do their projects.

    Today, the likes of Jeff Koons has a “factory” of some 90 to 120 “assistants” in Chelsea who fabricate his concepts.

    Artists like the late Donald Judd and even currently the 103-year old Cuban artist Carmen Herrera do not do their own works. They have an expert Soho carpenter — yes, carpenter — create their works.

    So please stop throwing “racist” around at every cut and turn. Reserve it for the actual fact.

    Otherwise, you dilute its original meaning of “espousing racial supremacy”

  3. Alan W Moore Alan W Moore June 26, 2020

    It’s cool you campaign for LA2. But it’s not a vicious conspiracy. It has to do with the changing focuses of museums and scholarship. The real rejection is and continues to be of collaborative work in general, especially in the art market. And the failure of the the Artist’s Reserved Rights Transfer and Sale Agreement to ever be accepted, which, if it had existed, LA2 would be in line for resale residuals, which no visual artist now is. BTW LA2 is included in this show spotlighting Jean-Michel’s collabs with graffiti artists. Again, the focus is changing…. https://www.mfa.org/exhibition/writing-the-future

  4. cc-rider cc-rider September 10, 2020

    LA2 collaborated on thousands of pieces with Keith Haring when he was between the ages of 13 to 20. Think about that for a minute. He was a underage minor and when they created the bulk of the work and K Haring paid for all of his travel all over the world. Imagine Justin Bieber never getting any recognition or paid for music made when he was a teen star. Whether it is racism or some other name is immaterial — it is blatantly WRONG and it’s hard to imagine it has never been reconciled in 2020 when Angel is still alive and still in the LES.

  5. Clayton Clayton October 25, 2020

    LAII always made his own art. Did LAII ever do a Haring? Could Haring even write LAII? LAII was not an intern. Keith sought him out. Right from the beginning, he did his own art. A collaboration. The idea of work for hire was just a way to take a person with no art education and give them money. What did LAII know? The work they did together is still a collaboration, only with an agreed upon wage. The museums and galleries and auction houses and so on, often get confused and have different ways of exampling LAII and Haring. The experts dance around the credits. Everyone writes like this is common knowledge. It is not. It is never explained. It is “understood”. A nudge is as good as a wink. Nudge, nudge. It is also my believe that LAII first over seas trips with Haring helped Haring get his game up to speed. More confidence with a partner. Especially an artist who works perfectly with Haring. Their work just fits together. Two different artists each doing their own art work, working as a team, a true collaboration. You guys should be working for Trump. Selling a ripoff. Do not buy the excuses. Go to a Koons, a Kostabi, any artist who pays artist to make their art. You cannot see the other individual’s work. LAII you can find immediately. A collaboration. .

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