Richard Harris on his collection

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Over the pasrt 40 years, I have created four distinct art collections that, in the hindsight represents four different ways of collecting. . This was an evolutionary process that involved my taking an increasingly active role in the development of each collection.

My first collection was antique illustrated books, a collection I formed while I searched Europe for antique prints for my print business. I would come across beautifully illustrated natural history books about flowers, animals and birds, and from time to time I would purchase one. After 35 years of “occasional” purchases I had assembled a collection that I call my “inadvertent collection”, a very important book collection, which I subsequently sold at auction.

Running parellel to the book collection, I started collecting prints by Rembrant, Picasso and Matisse. Since I was an enterprenuer devoting my time and energy to my own business, I entitled the expertise of several print dealers to find and recommend prints for this collection. There were 85 print purchases, including some of the greatest prints ever made.  The most important print and the prize of the entire collection was “The Three Crosses” by Rembrandt. Some of the other great prints of the collection were “The Three Trees“, by Rembrandt, the first very rare state of Pablo Picasso’s “Frugal Repast“, and the powerful print, “Femme Qui Pleur“.  Noteworthy prints by Henri Matisse in the collection include the great “Jazz” series and the three large “Odalisque” lithographs, highlighted by the beautiful Odalisque in Striped Pantaloons.

In 2000 and 2001, when I sold the print collection at the great art fair in Masstricht, Netherlands, I found the inspiration for my third collection. In Maastricht, I discovered a dealer who exhibited a marvelous collection of objects related to death. These were memento mori and vanitas objects, all of which contained representations of human skulls or skeletons. Stopping off in New York on my way home, I met with an independent curator who recommended that I assemble a masterpiece collection of 50 objects around the theme of death. However like my print collection, it would really be another “trophy” collection, in which an expert consultant’s taste would determine the content. At this point of my collecting life, I wanted to test my own eye and had the time to devote to the acquisition process. Over 12 years, i have accumulated over 1500 objects exploring the related themes of death and mortality. They range from incidental pieces of ephemera and vernacular art to rare and beautiful masterpieces. These objects represent every medium and come from all over the world. The earliest is a 2000 BCE carved jade skull from China, while the most recent include several large contempoary installations.

How and what to collect next? The natural next step was to commission works of art. During the time I collected prints, I also started to collect works that studied human anatomy. The starting point was a collection of anatomical prints by Andreas Vesalius, Bernard Albinus, Jean-Baptiste Bourgery and Antonio Caldani. These prints fascinated me in the way revealed the body in all its beauty and complexity. I bought them with the thought that in the future, these prints, these prints would become a source material for artists. I love the medium of collage, so I decided to commission collages based on human anatomical prints. The starting point of this new collection was exhibited as a one-man show at the Loyola University Museum of Art from Feburary 12 through May 1, 2011.

I had finally completed the rare collecting cycle: I began as an inadvertent collector, then collected with the aid of professional curatorial advise, developed into the curator of my own collection, and finally became a collector who, in commissioning works of art is also part of the creative process.

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2 Comments to “Richard Harris on his collection”

  1. Hi,
    I’m from Puerto Rico and I wonder if at some future date for my country?, Really I am very excited about the idea of ​​attending, will someone answer me this question. !!!

  2. [...] exhibition, Death. The collection is the work of the Chicago-based former antique print dealer Richard Harris, and among this 300-piece tribute to mortality there is a sort of international championship of [...]

  3. Polly Madel says:

    I met you today at the Chicago Cultural Center. I am the one who pointed out that toe on one of your pieces had broken off and I am the one who asked if I could take a picture of that piece. ( I don’t know the name of it) I came to the event only by accident. I was downtown for something else but I am glad that accident happened because I can’t stop thinking about it. I must come down on another day and take time to really look at each piece.

    It was nice having that brief meeting with you.

    Polly Madel

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