“If you know who you are, you can go anywhere,” wrote Flannery O’Connor in Everything That Rises Must Converge, the collection of short stories that she wrote near the end of her life (she died at age 39 from lupus disease). O’Connor, a devout Catholic, believed in spiritual rebirth. At her family’s farm in Georgia, she raised peacocks; the eyes on the male bird’s vibrant tail signify God’s omniscience.
American artist Petah Coyne drew inspiration from O’Connor’s fascination with peacocks as spiritual arbiters when she created Untitled #1336 (Scalpanio Nu Shu, 2010), a sculpture that is as hauntingly beautiful as it is rich with literary allusions. On view until April 15, 2011 as part of “The Big Reveal” exhibit at the Kemper Museum of Contemporary Art in Kansas City, the centerpiece of this monumental artwork is 27 taxidermy birds that roost in a 14-foot high apple tree that calls to mind the biblical Tree of Knowledge. Hanging upside down from gnarled black branches that extend into the gallery, are 17 pheasants, symbolizing death. Interspersed among them are 10 brilliantly plumed peacocks; they perch above the pheasants to signify immortal beauty and transcendence. Striking and deeply complex, Scalapanio Nu Shu alone is worth a trip to the Kemper Museum. After all, as O’Connor wrote, “At the summit you will find yourselves united with all those who, from every direction, have made the same ascent.”
The Big Reveal through April 15, 2011 at the Kemper Museum of Contemporary Art http://kemberart.org
Melissa Milgrom is the author of Still Life: Adventures in Taxidermy, reviewed in Audubon's May-June 2011 issue.