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"Morbid Curiosity: The Richard Harris Collection," Through July 8, Chicago Cultural Center

Posted: February 19, 2012 at 4:46 pm




I am pleased to announce an exhibition showcasing the collection of friend-of-Morbid Anatomy Richard Harris–one of the foremost collectors of all things death related–on view through July 8 at the Chicago Cultural Center. This looks to me amazing; full info follows, from the press release:

Chicago Cultural Center Brings Death To Life In Unprecedented New Exhibition
Morbid Curiosity: The Richard Harris Collection
January 28 – July 8, 2012

Exhibit Explores the Iconography of Death, Showcases Nearly 1,000 Works From Richard Harris’ Collection – by Rembrandt, Mapplethorpe, Du?rer, Goya, Jasper Johns and Many Other Notable Artists

CHICAGO (November 2, 2011) – A deadly obsession takes hold of the Chicago Cultural Center this winter when one of its largest exhibitions to date, Morbid Curiosity: The Richard Harris Collection, opens Saturday, January 28, 2012.

Presented by the Chicago Department of Cultural Affairs and Special Events in partnership with the Chicago Office of Tourism and Culture, Morbid Curiosity: The Richard Harris Collection showcases the wild and wonderfully eclectic selection of nearly 1,000 works of fine art, artifacts, massive installations and decorative objects, including creations by many of the greatest artists of our time, that explore the iconography of death across a variety of artistic, cultural and spiritual practices from 2000 B.C.E. to the present day.

Richard Harris, a resident of Riverwoods, Ill. who has been an art collector for 40 years, has gathered his provocative collection from all corners of the world to share with Chicago. Morbid Curiosity will fill two exhibition spaces, the 4th floor Exhibit Hall and Sidney R. Yates Gallery, at the Chicago Cultural Center, 78 E. Washington St., and will run through Sunday, July 8, 2012.

“We are all born to die. The questions that fascinate me are how we will die, where will we die and when will we die,” said Richard Harris. “At the age of 74, I believe it is incumbent upon me to make my collection a paean to death in all its many visages.”

The two major components of this exhibition are the “War Room,” highlighting the atrocities of war in notable works from the 17th century to present day in the 4th floor Exhibit Hall; and the “Kunstkammer of Death,” a modern-day “cabinet of curiosities” housed in the Sidney R. Yates Gallery, featuring a wide-ranging survey of mortality across cultures and spiritual traditions. The centerpiece of the “War Room” is Mr. Harris’ rare collection of five great war series, featuring prints by Jacques Callot, Francisco Goya, Otto Dix, the Chapman Brothers and Sandow Birk, which he has acquired over the past 30 years. This exhibition marks the first time that all five series will be exhibited together in their entirety.

“The scope, quality and diversity of Mr. Harris’ collection is unprecedented,” said Michelle T. Boone, Commissioner of the Chicago Department of Cultural Affairs and Special Events. “Morbid Curiosity will fill two gallery spaces on the 4th floor to cover a total of 14,000 sq. ft. during its six-month run, making it one of our largest and longest-running exhibitions to date.” “We look forward to hosting an exciting array of music, theater and art programming in conjunction with the exhibition, further engaging the public in a conversation about difficult themes that continue to fascinate humankind,” added Commissioner Boone.

“War Room”
Mr. Harris presents his rare collection of five great war series, arguably the most remarkable interpretations of war in art, evoking the ongoing cycle of human cruelty and destruction over centuries. Chronologically, the first of the series features Jacques Callot’s 17th century Miseries of War prints, followed by Francisco Goya’s extraordinary 18th century Disasters of War. The two masterpieces of the 20th century include Otto Dix’s Der Kreig and Jake and Dinos Chapman’s Disasters of War, both of which are heavily influenced by Goya. Completing the series is the 21st century The Depravities of War by Sandow Birk featuring massive woodblock prints depicting the Iraq war.

“Kunstkammer of Death”
The Italianate Sidney R. Yates Gallery will have its own distinct flavor within the exhibition as it is transformed into the style of a 17th century “Kunstkammer of Death.” (“Kunstkammer” is the precursor of the Public Museum as we know of them today. One of the greatest examples of a Kunstkammer was established by Peter the Great in Russia in 1727. Peter’s museum was a “cabinet of curiosities” dedicated to preserving natural and human curiosities and artistic rarities from across the globe as a means of acquiring a comprehensive knowledge of the world.) Featured in the “Kunstkammer of Death” will be works that explore death in all aspects from the spiritual to the scientific. Incredible works by such artists as Laurie Lipton, Chicago artist Marcos Raya and the Argentinean collective, Mondongo, bring to life the Mexican Holiday, Day of the Dead. Additionally, the gallery will be filled with a vast assortment of artistic styles and genres including the Dance of Death, a late-medieval allegory on the universality of death and Vanitas, a type of art that employs symbolic elements, such as hourglasses, rotting fruit and skulls, to signify the brevity of life.

Additional highlights of Morbid Curiosity: The Richard Harris Collection include:

  • Works by notable artists including Rembrandt, Albrecht Du?rer, Hans Bellmer, Odilon Redon, Pavel Tchelitchew, James Ensor, Jasper Johns and Robert Mapplethorpe.
  • Breathtaking 13 ft. high chandelier made of 3,000 handcrafted plaster bones by contemporary British artist Jodie Carey. The piece directly engages the viewer with the irony or contradictions implicit in the decay/beauty aesthetic.
  • Visually stunning large-scale installation, “Tribute,” from Guerra de la Paz entirely built from colorful used clothing that commemorates the Holocaust.
  • Specimens, medical charts and ephemera.
  • Work by contemporary artists such as Andres Serrano, Vik Muniz and Hugo Crosthwaite, including his commissioned 10 x 25 ft. site-specific mural, “Death March,”among others.
  • Ethnographic artifacts and art from other cultures, particularly Tibet, Mexico, Africa and New Guinea.

“Ironically, the object that best personifies my own curiosity towards the subject of death can be seen in a 1927 photograph that is probably the least expensive object in the collection, costing me $5,” said Mr. Harris. “It is a photograph of a woman named Phebe Clijde surrounded by friends in the backyard of Phebe’s home in the suburbs of San Diego. In this neighborly scene, Phebe is holding a human skull. ‘What could she be thinking? Who’s skull is this? How did the person die?’ are some of the questions that ignite Phebe’s and my curiosity.”

Richard Harris has been collecting for more than 40 years. Previous shows that have exhibited his works are The Slought Foundation, Philadelphia, Pa., Strictly Death (Jan. 23 – Mar. 13, 2010); The Figge Art Museum, Davenport, Iowa, Dancing Towards Death (Sept, 18, 2010 – Jan. 9, 2011); and Loyola University Museum of Art (LUMA), Chicago, The Richard Harris Collection: Balint Zsako Collages (Feb. 3 – May 1, 2011).

You can find out more by clicking here. Thanks to Richard Harris and Pam Grossman for alerting me to this exhibition!

Images: The Chicago Tribune

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