Licking Raccoon, 2003. Graphite on archival masking tape, mannequin eyes, newspaper, steel, wire, and acrylic medium, 16 x 23 x 19 in.

Rune Olsen: Revising Natural and Sculptural History

Rune Olsen’s beautifully composed, often shocking, masking tape-covered sculptures are some of the most visually seductive and physically intriguing figurative works being produced today. His three-dimensional tableaux, representing man and beast in various positions of sexual dominance and compliance, interweave personal narrative with mind-expanding revelations about natural science. The New York-based Norwegian artist’s life-size compositions, constructed from wire and welded steel armatures filled with wads of newspaper and obsessively covered with layers of translucent archival masking tape, are defined by, and brought to life with, expressive and abstract lines and gestures made with graphite and/or Sharpie pens. Olsen has deep-seated empathy for his twisted, mating male subjects as evidenced in their stunning, light-blue, glass human eyes, fabricated to match the exact color of his own. His carefully researched renditions of acrobatically Screwing Squirrels (2003), Kissing Wolves (2005), lewdly flaunting enlarged tongues and sharp teeth, and a rabbit mounting a rooster in interspecies sex (Cock ’n Rabbit, 2007) serve as allegories for outdated assumptions about sexual orientation and Darwinian theories of sexual selection.

For Olsen, physicality is both sensual and destructive, and his attention to animal sex inspires meditation on how human instincts and impulses relate to the actions of animals. He is “interested in how the viewer relates to the sculptures as either participant or voyeur.” He says, “Though we can live in our minds, as an animal, the physical is vastly more exciting—arousing our urges, hijacking our minds, and generating obsessive thoughts and questions. How do essential instincts govern our actions? What makes us behave in a certain way? How do we make decisions? How do instincts affect these decisions, and how do these impulses relate to the instincts of other animals? I explore these questions by meticulously researching real and recorded imagery of animals and people at their most primal.”