Helen Mayer Harrison/ Newton Harrison
A Brief Career Review
In 1967, coming from the University of New Mexico, Newton as an Assistant Professor wasone of two founding members of the new Visual Arts Department at UC San Diego. Helen Harrison, also coming from UNM doing research based work and teaching literature, became Director of Educational Programs at UC Extension and was later tapped for the next director of UC Extension, she chose the collaboration instead.
The Harrison collaboration begins in 1969-70 with a mapping they made of endangered species around the world for an exhibition called “Fur and Feathers” at the Museum of Crafts in New York City. They then collectively made the decision to do no work that did not benefit ecosystems. Their collaboration was almost immediately successful. Ultimately it led to the first husband and wife shared professorship in the University.
In the early 70’s their work was about urban farming. They constructed fish farms, portable orchards and flat pastures in such places as the Hayward Gallery in London and the New National Gallery in Berlin, The Houston Museum of Contemporary Art, The Los Angeles Museum of Contemporary Art and various university galleries.
Over time, a considerable body of literature on their work emerged and they became widely known as pioneers in the field of activist art with a focus on Art and Ecology, utilizing a whole systems perspective while collaborating extensively with members of the scientific community as well as urban and regional planners.
Perhaps their best-known early work is entitled “The Lagoon Cycle,” a complex photo mural 360’ long in 60 parts. After exhibitions at the Johnson Museum at Cornell University, Los Angeles County Museum of Art and La Villette in Paris, it was acquired by the Centre Pompidou as part of the French collection.
Their single exhibitions or large scale installations are numerous. Internationally they have presented their work in two Venice Biennales, Two Sao Paolo Biennales, Documenta 8, the Museums of Modern Art in Chicago, San Francisco, Bonn (Germany), Aachen (Germany), Toulouse (France), Ljublijana (Slovenia), the Museum of the Revolution in Zagreb (Croatia) as well as Kasteel Groeneveld in Holland. Their work took Second Prize at the Nagoya Bienale in 1991 in Japan. They received the Groeneveld Award for Doing the Most Significant work of the year for the Dutch Landscape in Holland in 2002. Their gallery representation has been with Ronald Feldman Fine Arts from 1974 to the present.
Their works cover watersheds such as the Sacramento San Joaquin River Basin and the Sava River in former Yugoslavia. More recently, at the Santa Fe Institute of Fine Arts, they produced a very successful 4000 sq. ft. installation entitled “The Santa Fe Watershed: Lessons from the Genius of Place.” This work envisioned the restoration of the Santa Fe River as well as the restoration of the arroyos leading to the river. Both proposals have been enacted on the ground and/or have been adopted into the city plan. Less well known are their urban works in Baltimore, Atlanta, Santa Monica, Pasadena, Cergy Pontoise (France), Frankfurt, Bonn and Kassel (Germany).
In 2001, with grants from the European Union and the German Government, they envisioned and expressed a work entitled “Peninsula Europe: the High Ground: Bringing Forth A New State of Mind.” Embedded in this work is a unique way of seeing the peninsula of Europe as a single physical entity. This work, in four languages, has been broadly exhibited and is ongoing.
The Harrisons have worked with Global Warming since the mid-70s. Presently they are working simultaneously on Global Warming works at rather large scale. All assume ocean rise. They are looking at what that might mean for the upward movement of people beyond business as usual. Three works address the high grounds of Europe and the island of Britain. The Harrison works are, in the main, done by invitation and commissioned.