Sculpture of Trophies and Prey: A Contemporary Bestiary at Peters Projects, in Santa Fe (August 7 to October 3, 2015) is an engaging, provocative postmodern survey of animal sculpture in ceramics and multi-media that is rich in symbolism, metaphor and eco-activism.

The term, Bestiary, coined in 1840, has literary roots. Webster’s dictionary describes it as, “a medieval allegorical or moralizing [volume] on the appearance and habits of real or imaginary animals.” Also known as a Bestiarum vocabulum, it has roots in the ancient world but became popular during medieval times. It was an illustrated compendium of animals and plants, even rocks. But each subject was given virtuous meaning and often used animal actions as metaphors for human behavior (and misbehavior).

The curators, the internationally known authors, critics and ceramophiles, Garth Clark and Mark Del Vecchio, have assembled a contemporary Bestiary in 3-D. Eleven artists—Jeremy Brooks, Undine Brod, John Byrd, Beth Cavener, Michele Erickson, Alessandro Gallo, Jan Huling, Jeff Irwin, Wookjae Maeng, Kate McDowell, and Adelaide Paul—each bring their personal narratives, charming and disturbing, wry and shocking, as well ethical questions about animal and man, explored mostly through the notion of a trophy.

At times the trophy in this exhibition is an abstract concept, at other times it is direct, the beheading of creature and hanging its head and horns as an adornment on a wall. In the past this testified to the hunter’s valor and skill, and ability to bring meat to the table. The hunting lodge of yore is a rich, visceral, pungent, masculinity and atavistic piece of history at once heroic, intoxicating and for some, repellent (as anyone who has visited in the the Musée de la Chasse et de la Nature (Museum of Hunting and Nature) in Paris can attest.

The hunting lodge of today however is a very different matter. Tracking and killing animals is now purely a sport, with ethical and unethical practices, and not essential for survival. That throws the notion trophy into a different light. As one confronts the art, the animals in the galleries, often avatars for humans, look back at the viewer and ask, (Adelaide Paul’s work Trophy Wife being a good example) who truly is the hunter and who the prey?

Welcome to the postmodern hunting lodge.

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video: garth clark interviews beth cavener