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"Morbid Curiosity: The Richard Harris Collection"

February 2, 2012 by Kay

January 28 – July 8, 2012

Chicago Cultural Center

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

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 showcases Richard Harris’s wild and wonderfully eclectic collection of nearly 1,000 works of fine art, artifacts, installations and decorative objects, including creations by many of the greatest artists of our time, which explore the iconography of death across a variety of artistic, cultural and spiritual practices from 2000 B.C.E. to the present day.

Pictured: Richard Harris in his home alongside his skull collection. Photo credit: Jyoti Srivastava

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. “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 scope, quality and diversity of Mr. Harris’s 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, theatre 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.

“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.”

John Issacs "Are you still mad at me?" 2001 Steel, wax, artificial blood, and mixed media

John Isaacs is interested in the physical functioning of the human body, and this figure is shocking in its realism.  Isaacs studied biology and once created a replica of his own body in the style of a wax anatomical model.  This modern reinterpretation of the vanitas theme emphasizes the fragility of the human body.

For more information on Morbid Curiosity: The Richard Harris Collection, visit