New York

“Bunnies”

David Nolan Gallery

Bunnies—unlike the “death of painting,” the “rebirth of abstraction,” or the “return to figuration”—are rarely the conceptual framework for a group show. Bunnies are thought to be cute, huggable, cuddly; even the word, which rhymes with “funny” and “sunny,” connotes something infinitely friendlier, happier, goofier than art, which almost never aspires to cuteness and only infrequently allows itself to be touched, let alone cuddled. In “Bunnies,” the apparent incompatibility between this fuzzy creature and the work of art is embodied by Dieter Roth’s Rabbit, 1975, which insinuates that even shit is a fitter subject for art than cuteness: few people would find Roth’s sculpture of a rabbit cute, precisely because it’s formed of such artistically acceptable materials as straw and the creature’s own pellets. And though it’s encased in a vitrine, prohibiting viewers from touching what they may not want to touch anyway, you can’t help wondering if the artist molded it by hand.

Most of the works in “Bunnies” veer toward the anthropomorphic. Peter Saul’s cartoonish Jesus Was A Girl Like Me, 1995, shows a crucified green bunny—each floppy ear impaled by three nails, big tits spilling out of a red-and-white striped jumper, legs churning the air. The title of the picture floats in a yellow textbubble beside the bunny’s orange halo. Jesus, of course, was neither a girl nor a rabbit, and yet the work suggests that if you can entertain the paradox of being simultaneously human and divine, a harebrained and girlish Jesus doesn’t require much of a leap. That there should exist a second work of this genre, William Copley’s Crucified Bunny Rabbit, 1961–64, implies that bunnies are somehow especially appropriate for religious pictures. Perhaps it’s the conjunction of anthropomorphism and imitatio Christi: if animals aspire to humanity and humans to the godhead, then logically every bunny is headed for the cross.

Barbara Zenner’s Blackjack, 1990, depicts two bunnies in a position normally named—as if it weren’t natural to civilized human beings—after dogs, and yet there’s something uniquely human about the way one bunny mounts another from behind in the life-sized cloth sculpture: a la homo erectus the active partner merely rests his paws on the passive one’s back. In a pocket of his plaid fur he also happens to have a packet of Black Jack condoms—“Schwarz und Samtig” the label says. The work is less anthropomorphic than its inverse: there’s really no term for it, for the recognition or release of animal qualities in humans. It’s what happens in Franz Kafka’s “Metamorphosis”: Gregor Samsa doesn’t project his humanity outward, he loses it as the insect takes over from within. In Black Jack, it’s less a matter of projecting human qualities onto animals (why would rabbits need prophylactics?) than of acknowledging the bunny within.

Keith Seward