Steve Martin’s Lawren Harris Exhibition Comes to the Museum of Fine Arts Boston

The actor is easing into the role of curator.

Steve Martin at the 2015 Museum Gala for the American Museum of Natural History.Photo: Clint Spaulding ©Patrick McMullan.
Steve Martin at the 2015 Museum Gala for the American Museum of Natural History. Photo by Clint Spaulding ©Patrick McMullan.

Actor and comedian Steve Martin is having an encore for his role as a curator. His recent exhibition at the Hammer Museum in Los Angeles, “The Idea of North: The Paintings of Lawren Harris,” is traveling to the Museum of Fine Arts Boston.

A Canadian landscape painter and founding member of the country’s Group of Seven landscape artists, Lawren Harris (1885–1970) remains well-regarded in his native land, despite his status in the US.

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.

Nobody knows him. Nobody,” Martin lamented to the Boston Globe. The actor and An Object of Beauty author traveled to museums all over Canada in preparation for the exhibition, which is co-organized by the Art Gallery of Ontario in Toronto and the Hammer.

Martin, whose love of the arts is well-known, was asked to curate the exhibition by Hammer director Ann Philbin, who was completely unaware of Harris’s career until she admired one of the Canadian’s paintings at Martin’s home. (Though Martin’s personal collection includes a number of small Harris canvases, none of them are featured in the MFA show.)

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.

Initially, Martin was hesitant to accept the task. “But I thought, you know what? In this one case, I think I could actually do a good job,” he said, acknowledging his great love for and deep knowledge of Harris’s work. Another plus? “My name will help draw a little attention to it.”

Cynthia Burlingham, the Hammer’s deputy director, and Andrew Hunter of the Art Gallery of Ontario co-curated the exhibition with Martin. The show originally appeared in Los Angeles and will travel to Toronto for its final stop.

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.

For Martin, there is more to Harris’s work than first meets the eye. “He’s not telling a story about landscape, he’s taken it to another level to the metaphysics of landscape,” said the actor in a video produced by the Hammer. “If you look around the exhibition and think, I’m just going to look at color, you’re going to see a lot even though the impression is a blue mood.”

“The Idea of North: The Paintings of Lawren Harris,” curated by Steve Martin, is on view at the Museum of Fine Arts Boston March 12–June 12, 2016.


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