You are here: American University College of Arts & Sciences American University Museum 2020 Mortality: A Survey of Contemporary Death Art

Mortality: A Survey of Contemporary Death Art

Curated by Donald Kuspit (Assisted by Robert Curcio)
Originally scheduled April 4-May 24, 2020

This exhibition was cancelled to contain the spread of COVID-19 in 2020. Visit our Museum@Home for digital resources and more information.

 

Video Read the fully illustrated exhibition catalog with essay by curator Donald Kuspit.

Conor Walton, It's the End of the World as We Know It

Conor Walton, It's the End of the World as We Know It, 2006. Oil on linen, 12 x 24 in. Private Collection.

Michael Zansky, Three Studies for Marathon

Michael Zansky, Three Studies for Marathon, 2006-2017. Oil and acrylic on carved plywood, 26 x 21 in. each. Courtesy of the artist.

Lynn Stern, Skull, #10a

Lynn Stern, Skull, #10a, 1991. Gelatin silver print, 16 x 20 in. Ed. 1/8. Courtesy of the artist. 

Michael Netter, Regeneration, 2016.

Michael Netter, Regeneration, 2016. Mixed media on canvas, 48 x 60 in. Courtesy of the artist.

Noah Becker, Museum Skulls, 2018.

Noah Becker, Museum Skulls, 2018. Acrylic and mixed media on canvas, 40 x 30 in. Courtesy of the artist.

Sonia Stark, Three Female Skulls, With Lipstick Smear, 2020

Sonia Stark, Three Female Skulls, With Lipstick Smear, 2020. Oil and pastel on arches paper, 26 x 19 in. Courtesy of the artist.

Frank Lind, Vanitas, 2017.

Frank Lind, Vanitas, 2017. Oil on panel, 20 x 14 in. Courtesy of the artist.

Robert Zeller, The Conversation, 2019.

Robert Zeller, The Conversation, 2019. Oil on linen, 28 x 42 in. Courtesy of the artist.

Diane Thodos, Skull, 2010.

Diane Thodos, Skull, 2010. Oil on canvas, 52 x 48 in. Courtesy of the artist.

John Grande, The Residue of Time, 2016.

John Grande, The Residue of Time, 2016. Oil on canvas, 30 x 60 in. Courtesy of the artist.

Stephen Newton, The Wake, 2018.

Stephen Newton, The Wake, 2018. Oil on canvas, 26 x 24 in. Courtesy of the artist.

Sigrid Sarda, Lothario’s Vanity, 2014-2018.

Sigrid Sarda, Lothario’s Vanity, 2014-2018. Wax, human hair, cotton, bone, gold leaf, crystals, opals, 21 x 31 x 14 in. Courtesy of the artist.

Chris Klein, Phantom of the Opera: Mask of the Red Death, 2019.

Chris Klein, Phantom of the Opera: Mask of the Red Death, 2019. Acrylic on canvas, 30 x 60 in. Courtesy of the artist.

Anonymous artist, Skull Bracelet, 1990.

Anonymous artist, Skull Bracelet, 1990. Sterling silver, dimensions variable. Courtesy of Robert Curcio. Photography by Sebastian Piras.

Danielle Frankenthal, Tree of Life, 2019.

Danielle Frankenthal, Tree of Life, 2019. Acrylic painton acrylic resin panels, 48 x 36 in. Courtesy of the artist.

Paul Pretzer, Dead Idiot, 2019.

Paul Pretzer, Dead Idiot, 2019. Oil on wood, 17.1 x 15 in. Courtesy of Marc Straus Gallery.

Paul Brainard, Cyborg Space, 2010.

Paul Brainard, Cyborg Space, 2010. Oil on canvas, 26 x 32 in. Courtesy of the artist.

David Ligare, Still Life with Skull and Polaroid, 1983.

David Ligare, Still Life with Skull and Polaroid, 1983. Oil on canvas, 20 x 24 in. Collection of the artist.

Bobbie Moline-Kramer, All That Remains, 2010.

Bobbie Moline-Kramer, All That Remains, 2010. Oil, graphite, gesso and wood burning on wood, 10 x 10 in. Courtesy of the artist.

Chris Jones, The Trader, 2016.

Chris Jones, The Trader, 2016. Book and magazine images, board, and polymer varnish, 34 x 23 x 22 in. Courtesy of Marc Straus Gallery.

Jinsu Han, Dream Fiend 5C, 2009.

Jinsu Han, Dream Fiend 5C, 2009. Plastic model, steel, wood, epoxy resin, ABS plastic, copper, silver cup, speaker, radio receiver, motor, feather, steel wheel and chalk powder, 30.7 x 25.6 x 19.6 in. Courtesy of Marc Straus Gallery.

Bill Claps, It’s All Derivative, The Skull, Negative, 2014.

Bill Claps, It’s All Derivative, The Skull, Negative, 2014. Mixed media with gold foil on canvas, 15 x 16 1/4 in. Courtesy of the artist.

Frodo Mikkelsen, Untitled (Skull #3), 2018.

Frodo Mikkelsen, Untitled (Skull #3), 2018. Silver-plated mixed media, 9.6 x 5.9 x 7.9 in. Courtesy of the artist.

Donald Baechler, Skull (Yellow #7), 2005.

Donald Baechler, Skull (Yellow #7), 2005. Gouache, vinyl paint and paper collage on paper, 27 x 21 in. Courtesy of Donald Baechler Studio.

Trevor Guthrie, Myself as a Specimen, 2009.

Trevor Guthrie, Myself as a Specimen, 2009. Charcoal, graphite on paper, 55 x 57 in. unframed. Private Collection.

The exhibition is a survey of contemporary works of art that deal with death. Paintings, sculptures, and photographs remind us that it is inescapable. Skulls predominate, triumphing over life, sometimes symbolized by fruit, books, and flowers as in usual Vanitas works. Apart from the Vanitas tradition, where the skull is depicted passively at rest, it is often seen in this exhibition through the distorting lens of some modern style, sometimes ingeniously bringing it to exquisite aesthetic life, sometimes to intense emotional life. So dramatized, these artists’ skulls become intimidatingly in our face, and with that more than memento mori.

Featuring artists

Donald Baechler, Noah Becker, Paul Brainard, Bill Claps, Danielle Frankenthal, John Grande, Trevor Guthrie, Jinsu Han, Chris Jones, Chris Klein, Wes Lang, David Ligare, Frank Lind, Frodo Mikkelsen, Bobbie Moline-Kramer, Michael Netter, Stephen Newton, Paul Pretzer, Sigrid Sarda, Sonia Stark, Lynn Stern, Diane Thodos, Conor Walton, Michael Zansky, Robert Zeller, and an unidentified artist.