“Breathless” Exhibit Features Gorgeous, Grotesque Animal Art

Sandra Bertrand


Picture an eclectic exhibit featuring among others, coyotes, rabbits and even a snowy white mountain goat thrown in for good measure.  And I’m not talking about a visit to the local Museum of Natural History, or even a neighborhood taxidermist.  It’s an art show.  Even if the subjects are no longer breathing, at least with a little imagination, some of them manage to come startlingly alive. 

The House of the Nobleman, a New York and London-based organization known for fostering the careers of artists through a series of prestigious arts events, has mounted an eye-opening show, Breathless, at the Rush Art Gallery in the heart of New York’s Chelsea area.  Through various media, including taxidermy, painting, drawing, embroidery, and sculpture, the various objects on display manage to be alternately gorgeous and grotesque.  At its worst, the exhibit runs the risk of elevating shock over substance.  At its best, it makes us rethink the mortality of a once living creature and whether art itself can resuscitate its existence. 

Upon entering, several pieces take center stage—Marc Swanson’s elk antlers, awash in jet black crystals, is an artful construct, in contrast to his trophy head buck on a nearby wall, covered in crystals worthy of a disco ballroom.  Joey Parlett’s Sandwich #6 reveals an exquisitely rendered ink and watercolor drawing, a mix of tiger heads surrealistically placed between two slices of bread. A curio case is chockfull of goodies—a particularly winsome pigeon in party hat by Jackie Mock is worth mentioning, atop a stack of books with such titles as Abe Lincoln of Pigeon Creek and Galsworthy’s The Pigeon

Kimberly Witham’s archival pigment prints “On Ripeness and Rot!” reveal a microscopic attention to detail.  Like Dutch paintings from the Golden Age—filled with  flowers, fruit in decay and objects of the hunt—they exemplify the brevity of life.  The most hypnotic assemblage on display is Rising by Andrea Stanislav, a taxidermy coyote with a rabbit in its jaw, suspended from the ceiling along with aurora borealis crystal pendants, over a mirror glass pedestal. 

Two standout entries in the back room include Hugh Hayden’s American Hero #2, a taxidermy mountain goat whose white coat is elaborately braided by the artist.  The animal stands proud atop a foundation of bricks.  Are we to assume the goat has lost its footing in an urban world?  Whatever the intent, it’s an attention-grabber.  Dustin Yellin’s Jaws is a fantasy recreation of an antediluvian skeleton, according to director Kristin Sancken (a former Highbrow Magazine contributor), from his personal collection--an intricate layering of glass panes, resin poured between each layer, resulting in a collage of singular brilliance. 

It’s a timely exhibit, especially in light of Nathaniel Rich’s “the New Origin of the Species” article in the New York Times Magazine (March 2, 2014).  He notes that the last captive passenger pigeon, “Martha,” died at the Cincinnati Zoo on September 1, 1914.  A now extinct species among many others, he tells us that the pigeon’s nesting ground “once occupied an area as large as 850 square miles, or 37 Manhattans.”  Through new genomic technologies in the works, a Harvard molecular biologist believes resurrection of the species is within sight. 

If each and every part of the show doesn’t leave the viewer breathless, it may at least breathe new life into species other than our own through the alchemy of art, helping us better appreciate our co-existence on the planet.  And that’s a very worthy enterprise.

(Breathless, a House of the Nobleman exhibit, is currently on view at the Rush Art Gallery, 526 West 26th Street, #311, New York, NY  10002 through April 11th, 212 691-9552).







Author Bio:

Sandra Bertrand is a contributing writer at Highbrow Magazine and the magazine’s Chief Arts Critic.

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Featured art: Catron - Outlaw; Dustin Yellin; Hayden - American Hero; Parlett - Sandwich
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