Lynn Powers,
Killer Art
(Pontalba Press, 1999)

If you've got a taste for the bizarre in your art trivia, a slight morbid streak, or a full-on goth-style proclivity for death -- Killer Art is a coffee-table book you can't afford not to own.

Subtitled "art that has maimed, killed, or caused general destruction through the centuries," Killer Art lives up to its name. From the first few pages through the last chapter, this book is an anthology of art that has been rumored or documented to have a touch of the macabre. It's separated into chapters based on the piece's genre -- paintings, sculptures, even film. Within each chapter, you are regaled with stories of paintings made with feces or flesh, decorative pieces that leave you feeling unsettled or have been rumored to be cursed, and sculptures that have killed their creators.

Understand, this makes Killer Art sound like it would be one of those stodgy sort of art-history missives that is about as much fun to read as stereo instructions. Quite the contrary. Lynn Powers has a familiar, comfortable writing style that makes it seem like you're sitting around a coffee shop table at 3 a.m., talking to your friendly neighborhood art geek. She tells the stories concisely, each like an anecdote, each building one on the next.

Surprisingly, to me at least, there is even a chapter on death museums, one of which is in San Diego (where I'm from). The chapter features pictures of the museum and its contents, and highlights other death or funerary museums around the world. Not for the faint of heart, some of the contents described or pictured aren't easy to look at -- including art made by some of the United States' serial killers.

Almost as amusing as the anecdotes themselves is the section at the end that outlines and excerpts some of the featured artists who declined to have their work in Killer Art. One, from a lawyer of Dr. Kevorkian (the self-styled Dr. Death who has reportedly assisted in over 120 suicides to date), told the author that he (Kevorkian) was refusing, and respectfully asked the author to f*** off. Another letter was from an artist using his own flesh in his work, who said he refused to be sensationalized and exploited; later in the same letter he offered pictures to be used for the sum of $500. Obviously, sensationalism can be purchased for a price.

I'll be honest here. This is not a book for everybody. Those with weak stomachs or those who are easily offended by the arts community may find it best to steer away from the book. It is graphic, and it is open about things many would rather leave over there in the art realm.

For the rest of us -- the nosy, the interested, the intrigued and the fascinated -- this is a book you just can't pass up. Worth every penny of the cover price, it will spawn interest and give you trivia for cocktail parties for as long as you live.

Just don't eat anything before reading.

[ by Elizabeth Badurina ]

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