New York

Derby Davis

Piezo Electric

There’s something touching in Jenkins’ condescension toward his wasted, urbanite animals, and in the sophisticated fun he pokes at what is dearly loved. Debby Davis’ slaughterhouse sculptures, on the other hand, slug at the gut. Beautifully crafted from Hydrocal, fiberglass, and Polyadam, and realistically painted in oil, Davis’ animals look like casts pulled dripping from new carcasses rather than clever forgeries of animal remains. The gallery was filled with flayed sheep heads, skinned rabbits, pig heads hung on hooks, goat ribcages, deer heads, snakes crawling through plucked chickens, and, my favorite, one half of a whole pig which looked as if it had been chainsawed into two lengthwise.

All this splatter art is in the great tradition that embodies metaphysical disgust in meat, a luridly angst attitude which asks us to meditate on the “meatness” of existence: the cloudy eye of death, the intricate tracery of empty veins, the red brown of marbled muscle, the ocher of fatty tissue. Oscar Kokoschka and Francis Bacon might be predecessors. Such disgust, obvious in Davis’ dinner plates with images of severed tongues and gangrenous parts printed on them, has in the past sought the sublime, usually in the hope that wallowing in the juicy muck of literal meat will purify the spirit and, paradoxically, lead to a cleansed soul. I’m not sure if Davis aims so high; her hunks seem to lie insistently inert, caught at the first, literal stage of the enterprise. Then there’s the gallows humor. The half pig is titled The Visible Pig, 1984,after the popular plastic model kits, and a snake penetrating a plucked chicken and biting its own tail is called Barnyard Hanky Panky, 1985. What real moral Davis’ animal farm is pointing to is an open question.

John Howell