Art in America, September 2008

Review by Edward Leffingwell

Christy Rupp at Frederieke Taylor


Two Moas

Christy Rupp: 2 Moas, New Zealand, 2005–2007, chicken bones and mixed mediums, 5 and 9 feet tall; at Frederieke Taylor

Christy Rupp’s latest foray into the art of science consists of life-size, articulated skeletons of extinct birds, some perhaps died out because of their inability to fly. In her extensive vocabulary of materials, these “remade” specimens—which is to say, made by Rupp—are built of found materials. In this case, it’s fast-food chicken bones and the odd turkey breastbone, bound up with wire, paper and glue and often as not anchored to plaques, the wall or a branch, and posed as though stopped in motion. Three years in the making, “Extinct Birds Previously Consumed by Humans” was informed by science models and museum displays popular with the sort of children for whom a natural history museum or fossil store is the cultural destination of choice.

Reassembled for display like their dinosaur kin, they seem to mourn their own passing. Rupp includes two examples of the herbivore Moa, New Zealand (remade 2005–07), one with neck held high, at 108 by 39 by 42 inches towering on a wire support, the other half that height, bent over as though joining in a Moa dance of courtship. This species of bird was last sighted in New Zealand in 1838, according to the gallery wall label. She casts further back to the slow-breeding Dodo, Mauritius (remade 2007), last seen wild in that island nation in 1690. Rupp further laments the loss of the parrot species Carolina Parakeets, Eastern US (2007), mounting her bony specimens on a sturdy branch in postures associated with grooming or combat. Their ribs appear to have been made from wishbones with other bits fused to simulate the movable joint, while the composition of the piece recalls the mixed-medium watercolors of Audubon, an artist known to have killed his subjects. These brightly hued, far-ranging birds were last seen in the wild in 1913.

In a related body of work, Rupp scissored the plastic remnants of unsolicited credit cards in the foot-long Zero Balance Frog (2007), the promise of “VISA” ornamenting its plastic hide. A Zero Balance Turtle of the same year suggests “Discovery.” Since her association with the politically oriented artists’ collective Colab in the 1980s, Rupp has demonstrated a keen interest in habitat, the social order in which things go together and what place they have in a challenged environment. She was assisted by scientists in the “remaking” of extinct birds and informed by university Web sites, the resources of the American Museum of National History and friends who contributed appropriate remains to the project.