Newton Harrison in 2019. Photo: The Harrison Studio/Various Small Fires.
ARTFORUM September 07, 2022 at 10:53am
Newton Harrison (1932–2022)
Newton Harrison, who with his wife, Helen Mayer Harrison, introduced the ecological art movement that positively affected both neighborhoods and nature around the world, died September 4 at the age of eighty-nine. The news was announced by the Los Angeles–based gallery Various Small Fires, which represented “the Harrisons,” as the couple were known. In a practice that spanned more than five decades and encompassed a broad range of media, the Harrisons collaborated with ecologists, biologists, historians, architects, urban planners, and activists, as well as other artists, to investigate issues of biodiversity and community development, presenting their carefully documented findings within the context of art. The couple’s work shaped government policy and city planning in the US and Europe, and continues to influence a broad network of eco-artists focused on raising awareness of the ongoing negative impacts of militarization, environmental disregard, industrialization, and pollution on the land.
“Put most simply,” Harrison told the journal Ecopoesis in 2021, “I as an artist am unafraid to offend. I as an artist feel compelled to improvise much the way my other companion species do. I improvise my existence as best I can with the material at hand. The intention,” he concluded, “is to the improve that which is around me.”
Newton Harrison was born October 20, 1932, in Brooklyn, New York, the grandson (through his mother) of Russian immigrant Simon Farber, a tinsmith and the founder of the kitchenware brand Farberware. Harrison grew up in the nearby suburb of New Rochelle, and by fifteen knew he wanted to be an artist, though his parents urged him to finish his prep-school studies. From 1948 through 1953, Harrison assisted sculptor Michael Lantz, to whom he had introduced himself. From Lantz, whose 1942 Man Controlling Trade greets visitors to the Federal Trade Commission Building in Washington, DC, he learned to sculpt with a variety of materials and to read and draft architectural blueprints, which would themselves become a key facet of his own practice.
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