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Insects, Antlers, and Bones Given New Life as Unforgettable Works of Art
Silver Wings and Golden Scales (detail) by Jennifer Angus, 2007. Photo: Courtesy of the Chazen Museum of Art, Madison, Wisconsin, USA.
NEW YORK, NY.- The Museum of Arts and Design will open Dead or Alive, an exhibition showcasing the work of more than 30 international artists who use organic and once-living materials—such as insects, feathers, shells, bones, silkworm cocoons, plant materials, and fur.

“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.”

Dead or Alive, on view until October 24, 2010, 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. The exhibition is organized by the Museum’s Chief Curator David Revere McFadden and Curator Lowery Sims with Assistant Curator Elizabeth Edwards Kirrane. A press preview will be held Thursday, April 22 from 9:30-11:00am with remarks and a gallery tour conducted by David Revere McFadden. Artists will be installing their work and will be available in the galleries for questions.

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.

The Museum of Arts and Design | "Dead or Alive" | Holly Hotchner |




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