Death on display: UK show investigates inevitable

Wed Nov 14, 2012 10:27am EST
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By Mike Collett-White

LONDON (Reuters) - Celebrating death is an odd concept for an exhibition, but a new show in London on the topic that many people would rather avoid is at times beautiful, macabre, harrowing, comforting and funny.

"Death: A Self-Portrait" opens at the Wellcome Collection, which specializes in scientific and medical themes, on Thursday and runs until February 24 next year.

It contains around 300 paintings, puppets, models, drawings and artifacts from the collection of Richard Harris, an American antique print dealer who just over a decade ago decided to dedicate his time to assembling works of art related to death.

He has around 2,000 items in total, most of them in storage, and would love to display the collection around the world to help people come to terms with their ultimate fate.

"My real aim is to have this show all over the world," the 75-year-old said at a preview of the exhibition on Wednesday.

"All the world needs to continue to promote the discussion and dialogue about this just to make it ...something that is not taboo and something that we cringe about and close our eyes and our minds to," Harris told reporters.

With a broad smile and jaunty manner perhaps at odds with his chosen obsession, he added: "Like it or not, we're not going to live forever."

Curator Kate Forde organized the exhibition around five themes, and sought to make the show feel as personal as possible rather than being a spectacle.   Continued...

A visitor poses next to 'Calavera', a plasticine on board exhibit at the Wellcome Collection in London November 14, 2012. The Wellcome Collection in London, which specialises in art related to medicine and science, is staging a new exhibition called "Death: A Self-Portrait" comprising around 300 artefacts belonging to American Richard Harris dealing with the subject of death. It runs from Nov. 15-Feb. 24 next year and admission is free. REUTERS/Stefan Wermuth