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Meat After Meat Joy

Zhang Huan, My New York, 2002, still from video performance. Courtesy of Pierre Menard Gallery

Zhang Huan, My New York, 2002, still from video performance. Courtesy of Pierre Menard Gallery.

One of the last shows I saw in the United States before leaving for Belgium was Meat After Meat Joy, an exhibit of 10 contemporary artists who use meat in their work, that was on display June 21- July 20 at the Pierre Menard Gallery in Cambridge. The title takes its cue from Carolee Schneemann’s performance/happening Meat Joy (1964) that explored flesh, gender, and the language of meat (in Schneemann’s case, “chick”)*. A video of Meat Joy is projected in the gallery but the other artists are ‘after’ Meat Joy—their works explore different significations of meat and raw flesh.

Exhibited artists included Tania Bruguera and Nezaket Ekici, Anthony Fisher, Betty Hirst, Zhang Huan, Tamara Kostianovsky, David Raymond, Dieter Roth, Carolee Schneemann, Jana Sterbak, and Jenny Walton.

Betty Hirst’s meat sculptures were only on display the opening night; July is not a friendly month for meat longevity. When I arrived, there were photographs on display instead. I liked Tamara Kostianovsky’s ‘stuffed animal’ carcasses out of her own clothing. Although these pieces were the most cuddly and approachable of the works exhibited, the use of clothing encouraged consideration of our own hides and flesh and what lies beneath.

In addition to the emotional and symbolic connotations of meat, it is visually striking. “Meat is such a wonderful aesthetic subject,” says Phil Dmochowski, the gallery’s assistant director. “Its textures, color variance, striations and marbling are very seductive, really. There’s such a great history of painting meat,” he says, mentioning Rembrandt, Van Gogh and…Bacon (from The Weekly Dig).

The opening received a lot of publicity and subsequent protests drew further attention to the show. On July 9th, PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals) issued a press release to call for the closing of the show: “Unless you’re Hannibal Lecter, there’s nothing ‘artistic’ or ‘joyful’ about meat,” says PETA Senior Vice President Tracy Reiman. “If it’s unacceptable to kill humans for an art exhibit, then it should be unacceptable to kill animals too.”

The Pierre Menard gallery has images and introductory text that explains the significance of meat and the curator’s intent on its website.

Big Red & Shiny also has an interview with the curator, Heide Hatry.

(*We also have plenty of meat terms to objectify men—hunks, prime rib, grade A chuck etc..)

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