You're more likely to find taxidermy adorning the walls of a hunting cabin than a contemporary art museum, but a new exhibit at the Nevada Museum of Art in Reno elevates stuffed animals to a high art. Taxidermy is placed front and center at the museum's Late Harvest exhibit, where stuffed birds, foxes, and tattooed pigs are contrasted with contemporary photography and classic wildlife paintings. The show features works by artists including Petah Coyne, Mark Dion, David Brooks, and others. The launch of the Late Harvest exhibit coincided with this year's Art + Environment Conference, a triennial meeting of the foremost thinkers and artists in the field of environmental art. There, conference attendees explored the ways in which artists are responding to massive environmental changes that people have wrought on the planet. The three-day conference, which took place during the second week of October, was hosted by the Nevada Museum of Art.
Among the most striking sculptures in Late Harvest is Kate Clark’s “Licking the Plate,” a hybrid creature with an animal body and a feminine human face. The piece forces viewers to decide whether they identify more with the creature’s animal or human qualities, according to the curators.
Belgian artist Wim Delvoye’s tattooed pig is one of the most unusual pieces in the show. Delvoye sedated and tattooed a live pig, thereby transforming it into a four-legged work of art. That might sound like animal cruelty, but wait: According to Delvoye, the live pigs are then “indulged with comfortable, heated indoor-outdoor pigsties, and plentiful food; they live out their lives fully before succumbing to natural causes.”
We often think of wild animals as existing in a world that’s completely separate from human culture. But as Mark Dion’s “Concrete Jungle” sculpture observes, there are many nocturnal urban animals that adapt to and thrive in our urban environments.
Perhaps the most unsettling installation in the Late Harvest exhibit is Berlinde D Bruyckere “P XII,” which consists of a featureless horse lying on the floor. “I took the motif of the dead horse as a symbol of loss in war, wherever it happens,” explains Bruyckere. “I need the horse because of its beauty and its importance to us. It has a mind, a character and a soul. It is closest to us human beings.”
Using thousands of colorful butterfly wings, artist Damien Hirst created three large panels that are made to look like stained-glass windows. To Hirst, the butterfly wings represent fragility, but in this context they also evoke the sacred.
David Brooks’ “Imbroglios” sculpture offers a powerful commentary on humanity’s desire to control nature. The wooden structure represents a phylogenetic tree, which traces the ancestry connecting humans to the Atlantic tarpon. But the fish don’t fit into our tidy categories, and they leap over the barriers.
British-Nigerian artist Yinka Shonibare’s “Revolution Kid (Fox)” features a taxidermied fox holding a 24-karat gold gilded gun and wearing bright batik Victorian-style clothes. The sculpture memorializes the “Blackberry Riots” of 2011 in London, when ethnic minorities used mobile technology to organize protests.
Artist Petah Coyne began working on “Untitled #1240 (Black Cloud)” in 1996, when a friend spotted several Victorian-era taxidermy birds that had been thrown in a dumpster. Coyne gathered them all, and created a large installation with them, partly inspired by Dante’s Inferno. “I just think it’s so beautiful, because the souls are gone, and the birds remain,” she explained at the conference.
The Late Harvest exhibit will be on display at the Nevada Museum of Art until January 18, 2015.