Taxidermy Gets Raw With a Biennial of Nightmare Pelts and Fantastical Roadkill in L.A.

Lisa Black's "Fixed Pheasant Wings"
(Courtesy of the Artist and La Luz de Jesus Gallery)

These days, there are art biennials to suit pretty much any taste, from city-spanning looks at the contemporary art zeitgeist to themed and targeted young artist showcases at major museums. But art-world denizens have likely never encountered anything like the Los Angeles-based La Luz De Jesus gallery’s latest entry into creative biennial making. Through May 27, the gallery will be hosting the “Rogue Taxidermy Biennial,” a retrospective look at a group of dead animal-appropriating artists who take the traditional art form to new levels — with the help of their own strict moral code.

The exhibition features the work of the Minnesota Association of Rogue Taxidermists (MART), an international crew of artists “dedicated to a shared mandate to advocate the showmanship of oddities… and encourage the desire to create displays of curiosity,” as their manifesto reads. The term “rogue taxidermy” was coined by Robert Marbury (who also curated the exhibition), Scott Bibus, and Sarina Brewer to refer to taxidermists who use “recycled” materials — animals recovered from roadkill accidents, casualties of the pet trade, and destroyed nuisance animals — to create surreal sculptures that often push beyond the boundaries of nature.

Taxidermy has been coming into its own as a hip art form, hitting center stage in the rafters of woodsy Brooklyn bars, starring in avant-garde fashion (see Alexander McQueen), and dominating Etsy with home décor that could be called quirky if it wasn’t quite so weird (a three-headed duckling in a vitrine is unlikely to encourage visitors). La Luz de Jesus's biennial exhibition, however, highlights what might be the most avant-garde side of the medium.

Beth Beverly’s hats, combining various fowl with brass, Swarovski crystals, and chains, are charming enough, but the same can’t be said for Bibus’s eviscerated rats, whose exposed innards are made of candy (don’t worry, that sculpture is already sold). Lisa Black goes steampunk with pieces mixing animal parts and antique clock components, while Daisy Tainton poses rhinoceros beetles in eerily realistic everyday settings, including one tableau depicting an insectoid trip to the dentist. MART's curiosity cabinet might not be standard art fare, but the alternative collective of rapscallion animal stuffers come up with some surprising stories. 

Click on the slide show for highlights from MART’s “Rogue Taxidermy Biennial,” which runs at La Luz De Jesus Gallery through May 27