The art: Bruce Conner, THE CHILD, 1959-60.
The news: “Texas Toast: Rick Perry’s Death Penalty Calendar,” by Andrew Cohen on TheAtlantic.com.
The source: Collection of the Museum of Modern Art, New York.
Historical note: “Conner was outraged at the death sentence given to Caryl Chessman, who had been arrested in Los Angeles for rape and robbery, but who claimed that the confession he signed was the product of police brutality. (Despite worldwide protest, Chessman was eventually executed in 1960.) To protest this decision, Conner collected scavenged materials to create the assemblage THE CHILD (1959), which presents a shrunken, grotesquely gnarled, and mutilated man-child modeled in wax. The figure is wrapped in nylon hosiery and tied to a high chair; a horrendous cry seems to come from the hole that has taken the place of a mouth. Here Conner revealed the death penalty as a relic of barbarism that mocks society’s claim to civilized status. To encounter THE CHILD in its original shape elicited a great frisson. The Museum of Modern Art, realizing its import, acquired it soon after it was made, but found this mordant sculpture so disturbing that it has almost never been on view. Unfortunately, it is now in a state of great disrepair. ” — excerpted from “Art of engagement: visual politics in California and beyond,” by Peter Selz and Susan Landauer.