Apollo Magazine

Year of the Rooster, art of the poultry yard

Joana Vasconcelos has sent a cockerel sculpture to Beijing for Chinese New Year. She's only the latest artist to have a thing for chickens

'Hahn/Cock' (2013), Katharina Fritsch, installed in on the fourth plinth in Trafalgar Square in 2013.

'Hahn/Cock' (2013), Katharina Fritsch, installed in on the fourth plinth in Trafalgar Square in 2013. Photo: Will Oliver/AFP via Getty Images

Introducing Rakewell, Apollo’s wandering eye on the art world. Look out for regular posts taking a rakish perspective on art and museum stories.

The Year of the Rooster is almost upon us, and as part of the celebrations to mark the Chinese New Year, artist Joana Vasconcelos will send a sculpture of a rooster to Beijing. The work, which stands 10 metres tall, is a nod to the gaudy decorative cockerels seen across public spaces in Portugal – and indeed on the livery of your nearest branch of Nando’s.

But Vasconcelos is far from the first artist to celebrate the humble chicken in her work. With a nod to the Chinese zodiac, Rakewell is proud to present five other artists who have hymned the glories of poultry…

Lucian Freud

From the earliest days of his tutelage under Cedric Morris and Arthur Lett-Haines, Freud was a consummate immortaliser of chickens. According to Picasso biographer John Richardson (quoted in Geordie Greig’s Breakfast with Lucian), Freud’s passion for poultry stemmed from his famous grandfather’s biological study of animals. ‘Lucian’s passion, absolute passion, for animals, even dead animals, like having a stuffed zebra head and dead chickens and things, that came straight from Sigmund’.

Damien Hirst

Livestock-loving Hirst’s contributions to the strange world of chicken-themed art are not to be overlooked. His series The Last Supper featured a fake pharmaceutical pack purporting to contain 20mg of chicken in the form of a ‘concentrated oral solution’, and his 2012 sculpture Cock and Bull featured a formaldehyde-preserved rooster sitting atop a similarly embalmed bovine friend. Meanwhile, his Pharmacy 2 restaurant in south London is currently serving a chicken holstein, priced at a competitive £18.25.

Koen Vanmechelen

‘Through the chicken, you see the migration of human beings – it’s a very easy animal to transport. And every country has now its own chicken as a symbol’, Belgian artist Koen Vanmechelen told Apollo on the eve of his London exhibition ‘Darwin’s Dream’. For the past decade, Vanmechelen has been crossbreeding different ‘national chickens’ together, celebrating diversity in the name of art. Good cluck to him.

Casey Latiolais

Vasconcelos’s offering isn’t the only clucker vying to be cock of the walk at China’s new year celebrations. Seattle artist Casey Latiolais has served up another rooster, and installed it in centre of the city of Taiyuan. So far, so conventional… except that this particular cock bears more than a passing resemblance to US President Elect Donald Trump, complete with inappropriately hawkish mien and peculiar coiffe. According to Artforum, Latiolais ‘[has not provided] a reason why he made the rooster a Trump lookalike [but] reaction to the strange effigy has been mostly positive.’

Got a story for Rakewell? Get in touch at rakewell@apollomag.com or via @Rakewelltweets.

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