Referring to himself as a ‘Bauhaus man’ Harper’s work, with its synthesis of Fine Art and Craft, was clearly influenced by the Bauhaus Art movement of the early 20th century. He is recognized as a force in modern design being the creative mind behind many of the iconic Herman Miller designs. His own art, however, has rarely been shown publicly before.
My first visit to Irving Harper’s house was enchanting. With his charming manner, he greeted us in his sun-filled room where he sat surrounded by his extraordinary art works: paper sculptures on every surface, colorful masks and elaborate friezes adorning every wall. Using simple, inexpensive materials that were at hand - paper, card, colored paper clips, thread, tooth picks and bamboo filaments with Elmer’s glue and house paint, Harper made his art work at home, in his top floor workroom. Up there, he had free reign to create whatever he could imagine without the constraints of time or directives from the design studio. He created fanciful and elaborate works - some comprised of multitudes of minute paper elements; others with papers delicately suspended on threads, housed in bespoke plexiglass cases.
Harper’s work shows a wealth of diverse references and influences: from other mid-century artists such as Picasso, Matisse and Calder, art movements such as Surrealism, Cubism and Minimalism and various cultures such as Native American, African, Ancient Greek and Roman. Yet, surprisingly, this is a personal collection, created by Harper for Harper, never intended to be publicly shown or sold.
My interaction with Harper led to re-introducing him to his works from the top floor of his house which he’d not seen for a long time and had forgotten. We urged him to share his fascinating collection with the community and he generously offered to loan The Rye Arts Center work for an exhibition. We are honored to use over seventy of Harper’s works to form the retrospective Irving Harper: A Mid-Century Mind At Play.
We are excited to recreate much of the the ‘top floor’ of Harper’s home as an installation in the gallery to give the viewer the experience of his collection as it is displayed in his home.
Katharine Dufault, September 2014
New York Times Review