KENOSHA — The Richard Harris art collection, “Memento Mori — The Art of Death,” is on exhibit through Feb. 25 at the Kenosha Public Museum, 5500 First Ave.
The exhibit includes objects that examine the human relationship to death. Items range from a Chinese jade sculpture dating back to 4000-2000 B.C. to present-day photography and mixed media. For the exhibit, 90 works were curated from 1,500 pieces, focusing on three categories: Asian, traditional and contemporary art.
The variety of pieces include ancient ritual cups, a 1st century Roman oil lamp, 17th century Spanish clergy funerary robes, 19th century posters, life-size sculptures, pencil drawings, wood engravings, prints, paintings and photographs.
Many of the traditional Old Master works are recognizable by sight or name: Rembrandt’s “Death Appearing to a Wedded Couple from an Open Grave”; Albrecht Durer’s “Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse”; Adrian van Utrecht’s “Vanitas Still Life with a Bouquet and a Skull.”
Although all works focus on the central theme of death, the variety of subjects depicted are as wide as the variety of media — some are beautiful and uplifting, some are dark, and some use humor and whimsy to depict death making an appearance. Many showcase the artists’ views of their times: wartime, depression, triumphant times, or a Renaissance.
A current resident of the greater Chicago area, Richard Harris grew up in New York and graduated from Queens College with a degree in economics and a strong background in art history. He started his career path at an art reproductions business selling copies of old master paintings to businesses.
His introduction to antique prints began as he worked for two dealers who bought and sold botanical prints and prints with birds and animals. From there he went out on his own, confident in his ability to create his own collections.
In 2001, Harris discovered the inspiration for his current collection: objects related to death. He decided that, unlike the print collection, it would not be another “trophy” collection in which an expert consultant’s taste would determine the content. Instead he was ready to test his own eye and had the time to devote to the acquisition process, accumulating more than 3,000 objects exploring the related themes of death and mortality.
The Kenosha Public Museum is free and open to the public from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Saturday, and noon to 5 p.m. Sunday. Donations are accepted.