“I am an ant wrangler,” multi-hyphenate artist David Lynch delights. “And ants are, as we all know, tireless workers. So if you get a project that they can do, they’ll do it. And there’s no questions asked. No unions… I had ants in my kitchen, and they are little, small what they call I think sugar ants, but they are coming in I think for water. I made a small head of cheese and turkey. I put a ball of cheese and turkey together and then cased it with clay, and mounted it on a small coathanger. I made an opening in the mouth, I exposed some turkey in the eye and in the ears. Now the ants found the coathanger, began climbing in for four days and nights non-stop and emptied the entire head of turkey and cheese.” And there you have it, Clay With Turkey, Cheese and Ants (1991).
Nele Azevedo’s icemen
Brazilian artist Nele Azevedo’s 1000-figures-strong installation began to really melt after half an hour in the 73 degree sun on the steps of the concert hall in Berlin’s Gendarmenmarkt Square in 2009. The message? Global warming, naturally, seeking to enthrall the viewers as the Melting Men’s heads and feet dribbled apart. They all eventually slumped to their watery death, signifying that melting ice could cause sea-levels to rise by more than 3.3 feet by 2100.
Damien Hirst’s fly buffet
Whilein this blogger’s opinion, most of Damien Hirst’s work is cruel, derivative, glorified taxidermy, the 1990 piece A Thousand Years is quite impressive in concept and execution. A life cycle unfolds as flies breed maggots in a rotting cow head, gestate, feed off sugar water, grow, only to die zapped by an insect-o-cutor — all within the confines of two, interlinked glass and steel chambers. Repeat, until the food runs out… eventually.
Peiro Manzoni’s breath balloon
From the artist who brought you his precious shits in cans comes Artist Breaths, another performatively egoistic series of art world permanence parody. Piero Manzoni created artifacts — he blew up red, white and blue balloons and mounted them, but by the time today’s contemporary art audience is introduced to them, their “essence” has long evaporated and they have been reduced to little heaps of empty, deflated plastic. Ah, Memento Mori.
Yoko Ono’s rotting apple
Only Yoko Ono could convince audiences to come gander at her Apple on a pedestal, asking them to wait for it to rot as the exhibition progresses. A minimalist effort indeed.
Dieter Roth’s meat piles
Dieter Roth is one of the central figures of the decay art genre. His work is the opposite of immortal. Sculpting pyramids with heaps of sausage meat, bananas, dung and eventually, mold and maggot colonies, aided by the harsh lights of galleries, his art was a testament to the cycle of life and death. He also made a bust of himself from chocolate and birdseed and let it get picked and gnawed apart by birds. In the end, his work would always look a lot “different” than in the beginning.
Jim Denevan’s sandy circles
Jim Denevan’s gigantic geometric designs spread through icy and sandy deserts of the world, setting world records. It’s amazing to think that this all would one day blow away in the breeze, get snowed under and whisked over with the tides.
Joseph Beuys’ lard seat
Joseph Beuys employed edible, perishable materials in his sculptural pieces. Fat Chair is a wooden chair with some fat. Or was, as the triangular fatty slab ever so slowly flattened, signifying “chaos and the potential for spiritual transcendence.” The decay and its stages provided for a varying experience of a self-transforming piece for decades. It was also sealed, probably ’cause it stank.
Urs Fischer’s melting mini-museum
Urs Fischer’s intricate candle-like sculptures may have influenced our first Sleeping Lady. This particular Untitled centerpiece at the 2011 Venice Art Biennale features a full-scale wax cast of Giovanni Bologna’s 16th-century sculpture The Rape of the Sabine Women and a be-speckled admirer who would disintegrate, appendages and heads “violently” falling off. The dimensions were listed as “variable.” Oh, ah-ha!