In Marcus Kenney’s world, animals rule. The Savannah artist subverts hierarchies, blends cultures and species, and rewrites cultural myths in his solo show titled Romance 2020 at Marcia Wood Gallery. With 32 new collages and taxidermy sculptures, Kenney imagines a not-so-distant future in which animals are the ascendant beings.
The diptych Man/Woman suggests a feral version of Adam and Eve who have emerged from the animal kingdom still sheathed in fur and raw sexuality. They have aggressive, ferocious demeanors and exaggerated sexual characteristics. Unabashedly gesturing to her genitals, the female claims the power of her sexuality. The dominatrix parodies the Book of Genesis directive to procreate and dominate while challenging the myth of divine creation.
In Animals Strike Curious Poses, a bewildered deer, rodent, kitten, fox, bird, and two snakes watch four dancers pose in a chorus line that stretches across a hallucinogenic landscape. Blossoms float above the dancers, who are dwarfed and visually lost in the composition, the colors of their carnivalesque garb blending with the cosmic scene. The collage raises the question of who is doing the looking and what is being seen. Kenney invites us to view the figures through the eyes of animal spectators, challenging our assumptions about our curious poses and how we appear to others.
Kenney, who grew up in a hunting family in Cooter Point, Louisiana, embellishes taxidermy to present animals as deified beings. A ram adorned with the trappings of royalty—a pearly headdress, plush leopard fabric, and a lace backdrop—is no ordinary sheep. A hybrid, the animal has a tortoise shell on its forehead and garfish protruding from its head. These added species contribute not only to the rich patterns and texture in KicKitic but also to the symmetry evocative of an altarpiece.
Instead of a trophy symbolizing conquest, a bejeweled deer sculpture titled Natcheketi suggests a new kingdom. The doe recalls ancient Egyptian queen Nefertiti as she stares ahead with a mysterious gaze, her eyes underlined with black paint and framed by an elaborate headdress made of hammock rope. The title of the sculpture is a derivative of Nachiketas, the name of a truth-seeker in the philosophical Hindu text, the Katha Upanishad.
At the entrance to the gallery, the colorful stag sculpture Bubba Demigod carries shamanic staffs in its antlers. If the stag is a shaman, the paintbrushes and paint bowls encircling the animal suggest the role of art in helping to mediate between different worlds.
Recognized for his political stance on issues including racism, environmentalism, consumerism, and colonialism, Kenney skewers American icons while elevating animals. Abraham Lincoln is vilified as a vampire with red eyes and blood dripping from his mouth. An emblem of the American political establishment, he is shown against a backdrop of babble, a Gettysburg Address empty of meaning.
In Be Careful What U Call Home II, a costumed “Indian girl” carries the severed head of George Washington while ambling across a desert-like landscape with oil rigs, camels, astronauts, and skulls on the horizon. The iconic American dollar is targeted in Almighty, a reclaimed African mask laden with mutilated dollar bills and voudon amulets. Centering the towering assemblage is a death mask made, appropriately, with cigarette papers.
The only positive human interaction in the exhibit appears in Double Vision, a collage of a couple slow dancing in a tender embrace. With a mosaic-like background, the work recalls Gustav Klimt’s painting The Kiss. However, the intimate moment between Kenney’s quasi-hybrid figures is interrupted as they turn their heads toward the viewer, continuing the theme of who is looking at whom.
In 2020, Kenney depicts the ascendancy of animals over mankind. Butterflies and birds fly freely while tiny people look on from behind balcony railings, imprisoned by their own creations. Small, disembodied heads are lost in a deconstructed, fragmented landscape of flora and fauna. Although the picture is bright with birds and butterflies symbolizing regeneration and transformation, humanity and its ills have no final power in Kenney’s reimagined future. Nature rules.
ALSO: Click here to listen to an ARTSpeak with BURNAWAY radio interview with critic Cinque Hicks discussing Marcus Kenney’s work.
Marcus Kenney’s Romance 2020 continues at Marcia Wood Gallery through January 1. Seven other works by the artist are on view at the Museum of Contemporary Art of Georgia in the group exhibition Within State Lines II through January 8.