This place is death

Javier Silva Meinel, “Coillur (litti-cusci)”

Javier Silva Meinel, “Coillur (litti-cusci)”; Courtesy of Slought and the Richard Harris Collection

Opening Jan. 23 at the Slought Foundation is “Strictly Death: Selected Works from the Richard Harris Collection,” a provocative exhibition that explores the iconography of death across a range of artistic practices.

The exhibit selection, supported by the Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts,surveys work by contemporary artists such as Jasper Johns, Robert Mapplethorpe, Kiki Smith, Irving Penn, Leonard Baskin, Vik Muniz, the Chapman Brothers, Andres Serrano and Sally Mann.

Mapplethorpe is famous for his use of Polaroid cameras and his sometimes controversial and graphic depictions of nudity, pornography and S&M. Smith addresses birth, death, regeneration and resurrection in many of her installations and sculptures.

Mann’s “Body Farm,” in which she photographed corpses at a body farm where scientists study decomposition, is featured, as is Johns’ “Untitled (Skull)” and Katherine Dutiel’s “Skull/Head (Inside Outside).”

The contemporary work is exhibited alongside historical pieces and memento mori (remembrance of death) by artists including Dürer, Rembrandt, Goya, Odilon Redon and James Ensor.

The exhibition also contains material culture and historical artifacts, such as miniature bone carvings by Napoleonic prisoners, bronze skulls from the Baroque period and
Day of the Dead illustrations by Mexican folk artist José Guadalupe Posada, as well as documentary research into the archivization of death following the numerous  genocides of the 20th century.

The Slought Foundation is open Thursday through Saturday, 1 to 6 p.m. For more information, call 215-701-4627 or email The exhibit runs through March 8.

Originally published on January 21, 2010