The Book of Harth is a fascinating documentary directed by Pierre Guillet in which New York City conceptual artist David Harth wraps up the first 20-year phase of an art project where he asks celebrities to sign a King James version of the Bible that he purchased at a Barnes and Noble. Harth calls this work The Holy Bible Project. His M.O. is that of a professional autograph collector, though he doesn’t sell the signatures, nor does he intend to sell the completed work.
Harth waits for celebrities at various events and shouts out to them to come sign his Bible. The fact that it’s a bible sometimes causes people to pause and ask questions. He doesn’t ask them to give him an autograph. He asks them to participate in his art project. One notable celebrity, Sally Field, wants to know what it’s about, and he can’t articulate why he’s doing it. She did not sign. Having the signatures in the bible is the whole concept of the project. Harth means to repeat this endeavor twice more. So when he has three volumes of signed bibles over 60 years, what does that mean?
“…he asks celebrities to sign a King James [Bible] that he purchased at a Barnes and Noble.”
The Book of Harth details the heavy element of obsession in this project. Harth needs to be seen. He feels entitled to the celebrities, getting salty with their security teams based on the urgent importance of his art project. This is cringe-inducing and sleazy. Celebrities obviously expect a loss of privacy where the parasitic industry of paparazzi and autograph leeches are part of the deal, but this goes beyond that. Harth is a different level of scary with his obsession. One wonders how much of a nudge it would take for Harth to have a bad day and do something regrettable. He would, of course, not be the first artist working with a mental illness if this is the case, but given the public nature of creating his art, it’s more immediate here.
He makes no income from the art project, and he cannot articulate a driving principle. The website for the project provides this statement: “The Holy Bible Project — an important 60-year-long artwork which began April 25, 1997, which explores the intersection of art, religion, and celebrity culture.” But that’s it… no discussion of how the signed bible explores this idea, nor any conclusions he has reached after 20 years. He does get interesting comments from an impressive list of celebrities. Currently, the list of signees (he calls them “participants”) contains over 2000 names.
"…a fascinating study of obsession..."