Why Comedian and Curator Steve Martin Is Obsessed with Artist Lawren Harris

The Canadian painter has remained relatively unknown in the US.

Steve Martin.
Photo: Courtesy of YouTube.
Steve Martin. Photo: Clint Spaulding/PatrickMcMullan.com.

Steve Martin.
Photo: Clint Spaulding/PatrickMcMullan.com.

Steve Martin is famous for his work as an actor and comedian, but lately he’s been getting more attention for his various roles in the art world. The author of An Object of Beauty and avid art collector is now adding curator to his long and diverse résumé.

Martin has teamed up with the Hammer Museum in Los Angeles and the Art Gallery of Ontario (AGO) in Toronto to organize an exhibition of Group of Seven artist Lawren Harris this October.

During a talk with artist Eric Fischl at the Broad Museum last year Martin half-jokingly said he practically pitched himself to Hammer Museum director Ann Philbin for the job, “I said ‘Well, I’ll tell you something, would you be interested in me curating because I happen to know enough about Lawren Harris to do a very mediocre job.”

Working with the Hammer Museum’s deputy director of curatorial affairs, Cynthia Burlingham, and AGO curator Andrew Hunter, Martin has brought together 30 of Harris’ most significant works—landscapes depicting the Rockies, North Shore of Lake Superior, and the Arctic from the 1920s to 1930s. Martin is also a collector of Harris’ work.

Although famous in Canada, Harris and the Group of Seven artists have largely remained relatively unknown in the US. When asked why this was the case, Burlingham told artnet News, “I still haven’t figured that out.”

She continued, “With very few exceptions, I have not met an American who knows Lawren Harris, unless they are married to a Canadian or have lived in Canada.”

Lawren Harris, Lake and Mountains (1928). Photo: courtesy of Art Gallery of Ontario/©Family of Lawren S. Harris.

Lawren Harris, Lake and Mountains (1928).
Photo: courtesy of Art Gallery of Ontario/©Family of Lawren S. Harris.

Then why exhibit Harris in the first place? “He’s Canada’s greatest artist and nobody in America knows who he is, with a few exceptions,” Martin told the New York Times. The actor cites his “celebrity face” as a component in a bid to draw attention to a painter he sees as a equal to artists such as Georgia O’Keeffe and Marsden Hartley.

Although Harris’ work is underrated in the US, auction prices indicate he has a solid collector base. His record for a painting is $3.4 million, according to the artnet Price Database.

Burlingham told artnet News that Martin “had a clear vision for this exhibition” and dove into his role with “dedication and seriousness.”

The exhibition “The Idea of North: The Paintings of Lawren Harris” will open October 11 at the Hammer Museum and will travel to the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston and then to the AGO. See images of Harris’ work below.

Lawren Harris, Mount Thule (1930). Photo: courtesy of Vancouver Art Gallery/©Family of Lawren S. Harris.

Lawren Harris, Mount Thule (1930).
Photo: courtesy of Vancouver Art Gallery/©Family of Lawren S. Harris.

Lawren Harris, Lake Superior (1923). Photo: courtesy The Thomson Collection ©Art Gallery of Ontario.

Lawren Harris, Lake Superior (1923).
Photo: courtesy The Thomson Collection ©Art Gallery of Ontario.

Lawren Harris, North Shore Lake Superior (1926). Photo: courtesy of  National Gallery of Canada/©Family of Lawren S. Harris. Photo ©NGC.

Lawren Harris, North Shore Lake Superior (1926).
Photo: courtesy of National Gallery of Canada/©Family of Lawren S. Harris. Photo ©NGC.

Lawren Harris, Pic Island (1924). Photo: courtesy McMichael Canadian Art Collection/ ©Family of Lawren S. Harris. Image courtesy of

Lawren Harris, Pic Island (1924).
Photo: courtesy McMichael Canadian Art Collection/ ©Family of Lawren S. Harris.

 


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