Although many artists can be said to contemplate mortality in their work—usually in a veiled, Robert Frost kind of way—a clearheaded few have cut through the allusive haze and made their contemplation plain. Whether natural selection, mercy killing, or suicide, intimations of death have gotten artists through many a hard night. Sensing her failing beauty and waning political influence, the Countess Castiglione posed for The Foot, one of her most touching and sardonic images. Kazimir Malevich designed and painted his own coffin without compromising his aesthetics or his politics. This austere Suprematist box suggests that the beauty of having a formal ideology is that you can take it with you.

Staging death has also been an effective way for artists to express a wish, foment resistance, or change careers. They have posited death in the form of crystalline inertia (Robert Smithson), weightless

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