Art Talk: The Abject Object—Decay and Irreverence in Dieter Roth’s Multiples

April 22, 2021
Dieter Roth, Swiss, Shit Hare, 1975. Dirt, straw, hay, and rabbit droppings, pressed into a mold. Harvard Art Museums/Busch-Reisinger Museum, Purchase in memory of Eda K. Loeb, 2001.50. © Dieter Roth Estate/Hauser & Wirth.

Known for his iconoclastic use of nontraditional artistic materials, ranging from chocolate to playing cards to animal excrement, Dieter Roth (1930–1998) underscored processes of decomposition in his work. Curatorial fellow Lauren Hanson considers how Roth’s “decay objects” from the 1960s and ’70s harness self-deprecating humor to challenge notions of originality, artistic genius, and the museum as a site of preservation.

Art Talks at the Harvard Art Museums is a video series in which curators, conservators, fellows, and graduate students offer an up-close look at works from our collections.

Led by:
Lauren Hanson, Stefan Engelhorn Curatorial Fellow in the Busch-Reisinger Museum, Division of Modern and Contemporary Art

Works explored:
Dieter Roth, Swiss, Shit Hare, 1975. Dirt, straw, hay, and rabbit droppings, pressed into a mold. Harvard Art Museums/Busch-Reisinger Museum, Purchase in memory of Eda K. Loeb, 2001.50. © Dieter Roth Estate/Hauser & Wirth.

Dieter Roth, Swiss, Pocket Room, 1969. Banana slice tacked to stamped paper in a plastic box stored within a custom-made cardboard box. Harvard Art Museums/Busch-Reisinger Museum, Gift of Dorette Hildebrand-Staab, 2020.133. © Dieter Roth Estate/Hauser & Wirth.

Dieter Roth, Swiss, Chocolate Lion (Self-Portrait as a Lion), 1971. Marbled chocolate. Harvard Art Museums/Busch-Reisinger Museum, Purchase in memory of Eda K. Loeb, 2001.49. © Dieter Roth Estate/Hauser & Wirth.