What Would Jonathan Adler Do?

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By Jonathan Adler
Taxidermy as design device is a loaded topic, one that we’ve lately explored in print and online. Designer Jonathan Adler, whose work often references animal motifs, has a perspective that we thought should be shared.

Whenever I am asked to single out my favorite design trends, I often dither. What constitutes a trend? Conversely, whenever I am asked about my least favorite trends, I snap right back without a moment’s hesitation: taxidermy.

In the last ten years, taxidermy has become cringingly ubiquitous, an international symbol of hipster glam. Opening an artisanal cocktail den? Hang a bison on the wall and toss a jaunty hat on its horn. Furnishing your rock star lair? A crouching tiger sets the tone. Need an Instagrammable selfie for your burgeoning lifestyle brand? Jet to Deyrolle in Paris and pucker up. 

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Mexican artist Sergio Bustamante is known by many, including designer, potter, and artist Jonathan Adler, for his zoomorphic metal sculptures. 

Mexican artist Sergio Bustamante is known by many, including designer, potter, and artist Jonathan Adler, for his zoomorphic metal sculptures. 

Looks cool, right? Not to me—to me it’s a depressing ode to animal cruelty. So when I opened my March/April issue of Dwell, the sharing, caring, thinking man’s design magazine, and read editor-in-chief Amanda Dameron’s provocative question, "Should Animals Act as Decor?" my brain began to tingle. As the old cliché goes: Sunlight is the best disinfectant. My hope is that shedding light on the ethics of the trend will cut the cool factor. An unsettling image in the issue featured a (formerly) regal lion haunting the corner of a groovy living room. The homeowner inherited the trophy from his grandmother, who hunted it herself many years ago. I too had an intrepid, interesting grandmother. Luckily, she was a bit more Danish Modern than Safari Chic, so all I inherited from her was a Bernard Buffet print and some great Bjørn Wiinblads. No moral conundrum for moi. 

Like many issues, taxidermy is . . . complicated. I was born and bred in rural America. My neighbors dined on venison under the watchful eyes of stuffed bucks. I eat meat and wear leather, but I would never wear fur. We all set our own limits. 

My solution: Replace your conquest with a creative and cruelty-free homage to majestic creatures. Mount a plywood deer head, lounge on a zebra rug woven from llama’s wool, festoon with my Glass Menagerie Horse sculpture. Biophilia is the theory that humans have an innate need to commune with non-human animals, that there is a primal and energizing connection. But I think taxidermy misses the point of biophilia. A dead giraffe presiding above the mantle? Deeply upsetting. A giant Sergio Bustamante brass giraffe sculpture? Nirvana!