A popular still life subject in the 17th century, the Dutch game piece glamorized the rituals and trophies of “the hunt,” a privileged sport of the nobility. Rembrandt’s contemporaneous painting The Slaughtered Ox, with the animal hung like a crucifix in a butcher’s shop, its head and hide on the floor below, grimly countered these spectacles of consumption and wealth. Like Chaim Soutine and Francis Bacon, both of whom made paintings after Rembrandt’s, Marc Quinn, in his current exhibition of bronze sculptures cast from slaughtered animals—lamb, rabbit, deer, cow, and steer—recalls The Slaughtered Ox. Figurative traditions, particularly the monumental statues of Rodin, are also an influence. But the visual seduction of the game piece, with its aestheticized scenes of death and violence, seems the real inspiration here. The sheer beauty of Quinn’s life-size forms, each exquisitely lit and individually displayed on a pedestal, exudes the same academic precision. Detail is everywhere, most of it ugly once you get up close. Knots of lumpy fat, ropy veins, severed muscles, cut marrow, and gaping gashes reveal the horrors of eviscerated flesh, though the lustrous black patina Quinn covers them with nearly abstracts this repulsive effect.
For once, the architecture of the Boone gallery, which sometimes competes with work on exhibit, resonates with atmospheric accord. The vaulted ceiling, with its geometry of exposed wood supports, seems custom-made for Quinn’s dark and weighty figures. Decapitated and limbless, they sit mutely on their white plinths, strangely at home in the gallery’s grave, tomblike space. Indeed, for all their obvious art-historical references, it is the specter of death that prevails here, bringing to mind the relationship of humans to nature and the consequences of convenience and greed. It’s uncertain how much Quinn intends these associations, but his slaughtered animals—creatures we often treat as products—are memorialized in bronze, a gesture that seems political in the end, if mournfully so.
This article from the Village Voice Archive was posted on February 1, 2005