From the earliest noted iterations of art—paintings upon cave walls—to today's cat-obsessed internet, animals have provided the inspiration behind culture of all kinds. We are awash in imagery of beasts and birds and domesticated pets. But during this most recent Art Week Miami—across all fairs and exhibitions—certain works presented shone an interesting light on why we continue to be mesmerized: We see something human within, and something distinctly animal. While the CH team was taken by quite a few, here's a narrowed-down chronicle of some of our favorites across sculpture and painting.
Two of the most moving works, "Smoke Signals" and "Smoking Barrels" by Martin Wittfooth (both 2013) masterfully paint the destruction of our larger wild animals, their environments and the commodification of their parts. Presented by Rick Wester Fine Art at Pulse Miami, these large scale oil-on-canvas works are emotionally jarring and clever, with smoke pouring out of horns and foreheads. A well-placed target seals one of the painting's very clear message.
At the Ornamentum booth at this year's Design Miami, we were impressed by Dutch jewelry designer Ted Noten's latest creation. "Bird Bag" (2013) was finished right before the show and shipped directly to the fair. Cast within the acrylic "purse" is a taxidermy bird, surrounded by found jewelry and a watch. The bird's head was actually constructed using 3D printing, and the sculpture contains silver and gold plating. People keep their pets in purses; magicians pull birds from their sleeves. The piece plays with this while also simply being a beautiful design object.
In one of the most intricate displays, Kris Kuksi's "The Plague Parade Una Quarta" (2013), a wall-mounted mixed media assemblage, overwhelmed with its detail work. A centrally placed winged beast of burden stands ornamented and adorned, surrounded by a mystical city and miniature figures. Dark and darkly powerful, there is a gargoyle-like energy exuded. It was an impressive display from the Joshua Liner Gallery at the second edition of the Miami Project art fair.
"Horsechild" (2013), composed of red pigmented resin was spotted at the Bertrand Delacroix Gallery booth at the Red Dot fair. Artist Beth Carter's vision animalizes humans with an equine blend. The stark nakedness of the piece applies a raw, humanistic emotion to something that is—in fact—bestial. At over two feet in length, it is just as much child as it is horse.
At Pulse Miami, the painted stainless steel mobile "Endless Column" (2011) dazzled with its metamorphosized links of human-like butterfly pixies. The product of sculptor Zadok Ben-David's imagination, each linked winged figure contains precise ornamental detail. The work also extends over seven feet. Ben-David's work was represented by the Shoshana Wayne Gallery.
The wiry, mechanical bird sculpture "Volante" (2012) by artist Jessica Joslin contains an antique delicacy, despite the heaviness of its materials. Born of multiple antique hardware items, including brass, silver, cast plastic and pewter, snakeskin and even glove leather, it conveys the energy of a master tinkerer. Seen at the Lisa Sette Gallery booth at Art Miami, among other similarly constructed works, each gives the sensation of skeletal toys.
Seen thanks to Miami's own Zadok Gallery, "Griffin" (2013) by Enrique Gomez de Molina was literally culled from the remains of other animals. This hybrid beast contained red fox fur, rooster wings and feathers, peacock feet, goat legs and a bull's tail. Together, this Frankenstein-like taxidermy was mythical and elegant. This piece (also shown at Art Miami) contained an uncanniness reminiscent of Kate Clark's "She Gets What She Wants" (2013) drawn from zebra hide, foam and clay. Muriel Guepin Gallery showcased the eerie sculpture at Miami Project. The humanity in the creature's face was shaking, especially in contrast to the zebra body.
In a delicate, pastel-strewn throwback from Hung Liu,"Beauty and the Beast" (1994) brought forth a subtler, impassioned humanity. This oil on canvas work shown by the Rena Bransten Gallery carried a loving sweetness. The gentleness, and the embrace between man and beast solidified a message of love and trust.
Additional reporting by Josh Rubin, Karen Day and Jonah Samson
Image of "Smoke Signals" and "Smoking Barrels" courtesy of Rick Wester Fine Art, Ted Noten and Zadok Ben-David photos by Josh Rubin, all others by David Graver