The kickoff of the city’s summer pool season last week marked the true start of summer for many New Yorkers.
Residents from downtown and Chelsea flocked to the Carmine Pool, located at the busy intersection of Seventh Avenue and Varick Street. Hidden between several tall buildings, the pool offers more than simply an oasis to counter the July heat.
Amidst the splashing and diving, swimmers might have neglected to notice the 170-foot-long Keith Haring mural staring down on them. Gama Arroya, a teenager from the area, said he had no idea who painted the mural. He thought the pool was most famous because it is one of the few public pools in the five boros that has both a deep end and and a diving board.
The Carmine pool has a rich artistic history. Before Haring was asked to paint the iconic piece, Martin Scorsese used the pool as a backdrop in his 1980 boxing opus “Raging Bull.”
Scorsese, who shot much of his early work in the Village or Lower East Side, captured a remarkably authentic scene of New Yorkers swimming in the summertime. Robert De Niro, the film’s hero, spies his future wife swimming from the street and beckons her over to talk through gaps in the fence. Though it is supposed to represent a pool in the Bronx, local swimmers could easily recognize their neighborhood spot.
Michael Brandow, who has been going to the Carmine pool for 25 years, recalled the first time he saw this scene in theaters, at Film Forum down the block.
“I had actually just gotten out of the pool and my hair was still wet,” he said. “I remember looking at the screen and thinking that place looked really familiar. Then I recognized it!”
The pool, specifically the fence, was again used as a shooting location in 1995 in the cult film “Kids.” Four teens decide to escape a brutally humid evening by climbing over the nearly 20-foot fence and skinny dipping.
While the pools appearances on screen are short and can be easily overlooked, the Keith Haring mural offers visitors a more concrete way of situating the pool in artistic history.
Haring was commissioned to paint the mural in 1987 by Commissioner Henry J. Stern, according to Annelise Ream, the creative director at the Keith Haring Foundation. Haring was assigned to create another mural a year before at a handball court in East Harlem, which famously reads “Crack is Wack”.
Haring, then at the height or his artistic career, prolifically dotted public spaces with his art, but the wall at the Carmine pool was one of his largest works. Stretching nearly the width of a city block, the mural features swatches of aquatic hues and Haring’s signature basic line drawings. According to archival footage from the Parks Department, it only took Haring 20 minutes to draw the figures on the wall.
Donald Martinez felt that Haring’s simplistic, now iconic, style was a perfect fit for the pool. “It just seems right for the place,” he said. It’s fun and perfect for summer.”
The mural was restored and formally conserved in 1997 by a collaborative effort between the Keith Haring Foundation and the Parks Department. Though it has faded considerably, it still stands as a testament to the connection between the city and Haring’s international rise as an artist.
Locals enjoy the Carmine pool because of its relaxed environment and its cozy size. Marta Almirall, who has been going to the pool for eight summers, prefers it to other pools around the city because she finds swimmers here to be less aggressive. At max occupancy, the pool can only fit around 150 people.
“They should do work on the locker rooms and shower area,” she added. “They are not very clean. Everything else is great.”
Anticipating a surge of late summer heat, the Parks Department has announced that it will be extending the public pool season until September 11th.