Nature becomes Art
April 27 – October 24, 2010
Dead or Alive is showcasing the work of over 30 international artists who transform organic materials and objects that were once produced by or part of living organisms-insects, feathers, bones, silkworm cocoons, plant materials, and hair-to create intricately crafted and designed installations and sculptures.
The exhibition explores a territory related to MAD’s Second Lives: Remixing the Ordinary, which featured contemporary works created from multiples of ordinary manufactured items. In Dead or Alive, the materials transformed by the artists are entirely natural. Once-living parts of flora and fauna are recombined and rearranged into works of art that address the transience of life, and all that is elegant and alarming about the natural world.
Kate MccGwire’s “Discharge,” made of feathers
Dead or Alive features new site-specific installations and recent work by contemporary artists from around the world, including Jennifer Angus, Nick Cave, Tessa Farmer, Tim Hawkinson, Jochem Hendricks, Damien Hirst, Alastair Mackie, Kate MccGwire, Susie MacMurray, Shen Shaomin, and Levi van Veluw among others. A special weeklong visitor preview starting Thursday, April 22, will allow MAD visitors to observe artists as they create and install site- specific works in the museum galleries.
New commissions include works by Costa Rican artist Lucia Madriz, who will create a massive, politically charged floor installation made from black beans and rice; German artist Christiane Löhr, who fabricates fragile nests of thistle and dandelion silk suspended in the air; American artist Jennifer Angus, known for her architectural interiors covered with thousands of dried insects that are pinned to mimic vintage wallpaper; and Kate MccGwire who will create a large cascade of 1000s of pigeon feathers emanating from one of MAD’s signature glass bands that cut across the gallery ceilings. Chinese artist Shen Shaomin has created an imaginary animal skeleton made from pulverized bones; and internationally renowned installation artist Xu Bing will make a shadow version of a 24-foot Song Dynasty painting using only vegetable detritus, weeds, leaves, and roots.
Christy Rupp. Dodo Bird, 2007. Fast-food chicken bones, mixed media, 33 x 35 x 18 inches (83.8 x 88.9 x 45.7 cm). Courtesy of the artist; Frederieke Taylor Gallery, New York. Photo: Nick Ghiz.
Keith W. Bentley. Cauda Equina, 1995–2007. Approximately 1.4 million hand-knotted horse hairs, fabric, taxidermy mannequin, resin. Horse: 76 x 24 x 63 inches (horse) (193 x 61 x 160 cm). Base: 90 x 48 x 12 inches (228.6 x 121.9 x 30.5 cm). Photo: Stanzie Tooth.
Maria Fernanda Cardoso. Emu Flag + Cloak (Fluro Orange), 2006–8. Cloak: Nylon netting, emu feathers, glue, fibreglass rod, metal, lambda print, 47 x 55 x 23 inches (119.3 x 139.7 x 58.4 cm). Courtesy of the artist; Sicardi Gallery, Houston. Photo: © Maria Fernanda Cardoso.
Tracy Heneberger. Moon, 2006. Anchovies, epoxy, shellac, resin, 24 x 24 x 1½ inches (61 x 61 x 3.8 cm). Courtesy of the artist. Photo: Tony Holmes.
Marc Swanson, Untitled (Antler Pile) (2007). Copyright Marc Swanson, courtesy Richard Gray Gallery
Tess Farmer, Little Savages, detail (2007). Courtesy, the artist & Spencer Brownstone Gallery, NY
Billie Grace Lynn, Mad Cow Motorcycle (2008). Photo credit, the artist
“An essential part of the Museum’s mission is to connect artists with our visitors in new ways,” states Holly Hotchner, the museum’s Nanette L. Laitman Director. “In our special Visitor Previews we invite the public to watch artists as they install their work, a process that is usually kept behind the scenes. It’s an opportunity to directly witness and appreciate the creative process behind the finished work of art.”
During the Visitor Preview, Costa Rican artist Lucia Madriz will use black beans, corn, and rice to create a powerful, politically charged floor installation, “Gold Fever,” commenting on the genetic manipulation of basic foods; German artist Christiane Löhr will capture the ephemerality of nature with a nearly invisible net suspended from the ceiling and filled with thistledown; British installation artist Susie MacMurray will create a dramatic interior space lined with thousands of black feathers; American artist Jim Rittiman will construct a wall installation, “Tree of Life,” depicting an upside-down evolutionary tree, its branches terminating with mutant hybrid creatures made from bones, wings, and carapaces of disparate and incompatible species; Tanja Smeets of the Netherlands will install an amorphous fungus-like organism made of red lentils that creeps along and drips from the ceiling; and British sculptor and installation artist Kate MccGwire will create a “waterfall” of silvery pigeon feathers that cascades from one of MAD’s signature glass bands that cut across the gallery ceilings.
“In the hands of these artists mute materials are brought back to life as works of art,” states Chief Curator David McFadden. “With profound and provocative associations, organic materials are transformed and resuscitated. This exhibition evokes our deepest emotions about mortality, but at the same time celebrates the new life given to lifeless materials by these talented individuals.”
Dead or Alive follows upon themes first presented in the inaugural exhibition of MAD’s new home, Second Lives: Remixing the Ordinary, which featured contemporary works created from multiples of ordinary manufactured items. Here, the materials used are entirely natural. Once-living parts of flora and fauna are recombined and rearranged into works of art that address the transience of life, and all that is elegant and alarming about the natural world.
American artist Nick Cave uses leaves, hair, twigs, and other found objects to create bold costume-sculptures called Soundsuits. When worn, the Soundsuits are brought to life and create a loud swell of noise as the performer moves—a meditation on the power of ritual and ceremony.
Dutch performance artist Levi van Veluw also layers natural materials on the human body in his elaborate self-portrait photographs and videos. In his landscape series, van Veluw adheres miniature plots of grass and clusters of trees onto the contours of his own face, overturning traditional concepts of landscape by placing the human body at its core.
Jennifer Angus also subverts familiar forms with her site-specific architectural installations. Built to mimic interiors furnished with traditional wallpaper and textiles, the works are actually ornamented with thousands of dried insects pinned directly to the wall. These installations blur the distinction between decoration and expression, and between domestic comforts and disturbance.
Cuban artist Fabian Peña employs insects to explore the endless cycle of life and death, and to comment on the foulest conditions of human existence. For The Impossibility of Storage for the Soul (2007), Peña has rendered an image of the human skull using only clipped cockroach wings. Mounted on a light box, the wings cast an eerie amber glow into the gallery.
American artist Christy Rupp uses the bones of chickens discarded by fast food restaurants to create life-size skeletal reconstructions of extinct birds, including the Great Auk, the Moa and the California Condor. Her Dodo Bird, on view in Dead or Alive, is a meditation on man slowly devouring his environment.
Chinese artist Shen Shaomin also adopts the role of anthropologist and scientist as he creates fanciful mythological creatures from pulverized animal bones. His three-headed monsters, gigantic mosquitoes, and other constructions recall a fictional prehistoric time and explore the coexistence of myth and scientific methodology.