In “Trophies and Prey: A Contemporary Bestiary,” at Peters Projects, noted ceramics dealers and curators Garth Clark and Mark Del Vecchio (now based in Santa Fe) present mixed media and ceramic works by eleven artists from a diversity of global settings. Highlights include the incredibly virtuosic stoneware sculptures of Beth Cavener, which encapsulate psychological states of tension through beautifully realized animal forms, full of movement and struggle as they resist traps and tethers. Psychological fables of human cruelty are currently the center of her exquisite explorations, which render analogies and allegories as true and as timely (read terror and torture) as any of Aesop’s.
Alessandro Gallo, born in Genoa, Italy, but now based in Helena, Montana maps similar territory, blurring the lines between human and animal psyches, yet set in more mundane predicaments. Recalling Maurizio Cattelan’s taxidermy series of socially outcast squirrels in both pathos and humor, Gallo presents freestanding ceramic and mixed-media figurines along with largish Photoshopped black-and-white images of animal-headed humans in various amusing settings. In Magician, a goat-headed guy with a great matrix of curling horns sits in a spare room concentrating on a lone, bent spoon before him. In Kate MacDowell’s magically detailed white porcelain Nursemaid 1, 2 and 3 (all 2015), hybridism between the humananimal and animal-animal worlds is more haunting than hilarious, as a small monkey carries and protectively suckles a human infant, the ghostliness of the porcelain contributing to their dreamlike surrealism.
Animal heads mounted as trophies, and references to taxidermy dominate the works of Wookjae Maeng, John Byrd, Jan Huling, Adelaide Paul, Jeff Irwin, and Undine Brod, and consequently the exhibition itself, which puts forth a theme of opposition to hunting for sport and the use of dead animal heads and bodies as trophies. John Byrd’s Untitled (Long Horn) (2013) composed of porcelain and inlaid mixed-media elements, updates decorative kitsch with post-apocalyptic cyborg mutations to lament loss and warn of the further costs of industrial disruption to the environment.
Jan Huling’s incredible glass bead animal heads recall Huichol sculpture. The human hands for antlers of Reindeer Dance (2013) deepen the intense spiritual vibe of the piece. Other antlered entities cavort across (and through) the walls, as Jeff Irwin’s amusing white earthenware sculptures simultaneously mock hunting trophies and pay homage to folk art carvings. It is hard to believe that the pieces are not made of carved and painted wood, as the artist builds in burls and knots, confounding readings of his media and increasing the range of this exhibition’s eco-humane message.