3 Dec 2005 - 15 Jan 2006
When can a Christmas cracker be a Christmas card? Answer: when it was made by leading contemporary artist Mark Wallinger.
The Harris has a large collection of Christmas cards, from the earliest to the very latest.
This exhibition provided an opportunity to see some of the elaborate images of the 19th century alongside the quirky creations of the 21st.
Included amongst the latter were objects which stretched the idea of a Christmas card to its limit by artists such as Lucian Freud, Howard Hodgkin and Gary Hume.
A potted history of Christmas Cards
People have been sending seasonal greetings for centuries. However, the Christmas card as we know it today, did not appear until the 19th century.
The Harris' collection contains some extremely elaborate 19th century cards, including complex 3-dimensional cards and envelopes intricately cut to resemble lace.
Alongside traditional cards, a selection of airgraphs, sent by troops on active service during WWII, were on display. Airgraphs were a form of aerogramme designed to speed up communication for troops in the field. The senders wrote their messages on special forms which were then photographed onto microfilm.
10,000 airgraphs could be held on a single microfilm, which was then sent to its destination. Reduced size prints were then taken from the film and sent on to the addressees in envelopes.
The show offered visitors a chance to see some of the Momart Christmas Cards which the Harris has been collecting in recent years. These are a series of artists' cards sent to customers each year by Momart, the art transport company. Since 1984, the company has annually commissioned a leading contemporary artist to make a Christmas card.
Often these are imaginative reinterpretations of the form. Gary Hume's 2000 offering was a snowman in fuzzy felt, whilst Mark Wallinger's contribution of the following year was a Christmas cracker. Other artists who have contributed to the scheme include Lucian Freud and Howard Hodgkin, amongst others.
Also on display were original artworks from the Harris' collection which have been used as Christmas card images.