Depicting death: Artists take on the great inevitable

A detail from “Device,” a electronic art piece by Pete Froslie, in the Donna Beam Fine Art Gallery at UNLV Tuesday, Dec. 2, 2014. “Skull 3rd Biennial Exhibition” runs through Jan. 31, 2015.

There’s nothing like a grinning skull to remind us of what lies in wait, around the bend, down the hallway, up the stairs or beyond the horizon. In our leftovers we all look the same, despite what may have happened in the living years.

Skull 3rd Biennial Exhibition

So in some perverse way, it seems impossible not to laugh at the indifference with which the skulls plop out of Bryan Prather’s “Corporate Spending Spree”—a mixed-media mechanical art piece that gathers and spits out baseball-sized skulls. The looping and misbehaving sculpture, operating in the vein of a clunky bowling alley return, serves as an unintentional soundtrack to Skull 3rd Biennial Exhibition at Donna Beam Fine Art Gallery.

The multi-artist meditation on mortality, which features work by more than 40 artists, is curated by Christopher Bauder, who began the exhibits by encouraging artists to consider their own mortality, whether in life or career.

“It’s very much portraiture,” says Bauder, whose own piece in the show, “The Ranch (A King’s Story),” incorporates tumbleweed (an iconic dead object haunting the Southwest) and skull-like skins trapped within, much like plastic bags and detritus gathered. With hands extending from a wall above the red-painted tumbleweed, the discipline of art is placed within religious and cultish themes.

Sean Russell riffs on Jeff Koons’ basketball/equilibrium works with “The Physical Impossibility of a Skull in a Tank of Oil (Skull Piss).” Lance Smith plays off gay and black stereotypes, as well as gay culture’s embedded sexism and racism, in “Negra: Modela,” a charcoal drawing of an X-ray showing the skeleton of someone who’d inserted a beer bottle into their rectum.

Additionally, Bauder sought the inclusion of ceramics in the show, believing them to be a dying art, while also highlighting the medium as fine art. Randy Bricco’s “Untitled American Artifact,” an earthenware vessel featuring the Indian motorcycle logo, references several facets of mortality within one piece. Nothing here is off limits. From the erotic (Aaron Sheppard) to interactive trickery (Sue Kay Lee), the show is an engaging exploration of that which befalls us all.

Skull 3rd Biennial Exhibition Through January 31; Monday-Friday, 9 a.m.-5 p.m.; Saturday, noon-5 p.m. UNLV’s Donna Beam Fine Art Gallery, 702-895-3893.

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