Taxidermy: dark and macabre or beautiful and rustic, it’s all in the eye of the beholder

taxidermy

Many artists work with taxidermy. I recently saw the David Hammons show at Mnuchin Gallery and was surprised that he was using taxidermy (cat on a drum). There is also a current show at Hauser & Wirth by Berlinde De Bruyckere that is inspired by Flemish paintings about war and death. However, she has created “faux” taxidermy built out of steel. And I just came across this incredibly interesting article by Greg Cook from WBUR, Boston’s NPR station on “The Curious Occurrence of Taxidermy in Contemporary Art,” where he notes: Taxidermy has surged in contemporary art over the past couple of decades — both inside and outside the art academy. Perhaps more outside, where what is sometimes called “rogue taxidermy” has been a central player in art that tends toward the dark, gothic, absurd or wondrous.

And now I see that Brooklyn is getting its very own taxidermy museum inside of Eclectic Collectibles on Metropolitan Avenue.  See more below on taxidermy as well as pictures of noteworthy examples.

I have always been a fan of taxidermy (and no, I am not a hunter). I find it incredibly beautiful – and sometimes weird or spooky. My travels have taken me to incredible museums, antique stores and residencies where I have come in contact with the most extraordinary examples of taxidermy.  A few standouts include The Cody Museum in Wyoming (stellar collection), The Museum of Natural History in NY, Freeman’s Restaurant also in NYC, Bass Pro Shops all around the country and most antique malls in Wisconsin and Arizona (altho taxidermy is becoming rarer by the day).

Finally, I am especially fascinated by Walter Potter, a Victorian taxidermist working in the 1800’s, who created tableaux of birds and small animals. Local hunters supplied him with dead squirrels; local dogs supplied him with dead rats. The Death and Burial of Cock Robin is considered his “great masterpiece” and the most widely known single item of Victorian taxidermy. He also created more weirdly anthropomorphized work, such as a classroom of bunny rabbits reading, sewing, and working on their penmanship, a kitten’s garden party, and a “men’s” club for squirrels.

 

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Nicholas Galanin’s “Inert,” 2009, in the foreground and Mark Dion’s “Concrete Jungle (Mammalia),” 1993, in the background. (Greg Cook)

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Maurizio Cattelan’s untitled 2007 artwork, featuring two taxidermy dogs and one chick, installed in “Dead Animals” at Brown University’s Bell Gallery. In the background is Damien Hirst’s “Away from the Flock.” (Greg Cook)

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David Hammons Cat on a Drum at Mnuchin Gallery

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Berlinde-De-Bruyckere-No-Life-Lost-II-2015 at Hauser & Wirth

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Taxidermy installation at Bass Pro Shop

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Freeman’s Restaurant NYC

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Walter Potter’s Taxidermy

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