Fur, Feathers, Bugs and Butterflies at MAD
If the Museum of Arts and Design's new show had a soundtrack, it would be Bon Jovi's "Wanted Dead or Alive." As Jovi says and MAD's show tells, "Every day it seems we're wastin' away." Yet in the fascinating "Dead or Alive" show at MAD nothing -not fur, feathers, bones, insects, shell - goes to waste. In fact, 37 international artists whose work is on view have transformed once-living material into "lively" sculpture and installations.
Rather than morbid, the work is mysterious, highly personal, and each in its own way comments on the human condition and the transcendence of life, whether man or beast. One of the most remarkable installations is Keith W. Bentley's Cauda Equina,
made up of 1.4 million hand-knotted horse hairs mounted on fabric and applied to a horse mannequin. The result is a shaggy pony that resembles a huge sheep dog in mourning. Bentley is a self-trained artist who is passionate about animals. On learning that more than 250 horses were going to be slaughtered in processing plants, the artist obtained all the hair from the horses' manes and tails. He twisted and hand-knotted them, a painstaking process that took 12 years. He then created what is, in effect, a horse-hair blanket that he placed over the pony form to create the spooky installation. The idea of covering the pony's head with a flowing veil of horse hair evokes the Victorian custom of mourning when women covered their faces with a veil.
Even more mysterious is Shen Shaomin's mythical species sculpture. His process begins with grinding up bones, mixing them with a special type of resin, and fabricating a new skeleton for an almost life-size creature. Shen's Sagittarius 2005 is a hybrid man-animal created entirely of ground up bone, bone meal, and glue. More than any other artist in "Dead or Alive," Shen's work harkens back to 17th century Holland when a popular art theme was the fleeting nature of life.
Better known artists in MAD's show are Damien Hirst who composed a work made up of turquoise-blue butterfly wings and Xu Bing who made a dreamy shadow-box version of a 24-foot Song Dynasty painting using only vegetable material, weeds, leaves, and roots. Chief Curator David McFadden sums it up best: "This exhibition evokes our deepest emotions about mortality, but at the same time celebrates the new life given to lifeless materials..."
"Dead or Alive," April-27-October 24, 2010: MAD, 2 Columbus Circle, NYC. www.madmuseum.org