March 29, 2013  |  Artists, Collection & Exhibitions
Dieter Roth’s Bunny Leaves More Than Just Chocolate and Jelly Beans

Without question, one of the most popular works in the Dieter Roth exhibition Wait, Later This Will Be Nothing, is the seasonally appropriate Bunny-dropping-bunny (Karnickelköttelkarnickel). With Easter just around the corner, jelly bean eggs and chocolate bunnies seem to be everywhere, including here in the galleries at MoMA. But Roth’s irreverent version pulls the ultimate bait-and-switch. What at first looks to be a chocolate Easter bunny is, in fact, made out of rabbit food (straw) and rabbit droppings. With this revelation, the initial appeal of the chocolate bunny is upended, becoming disgust at the thought of this excrement pile, and prompting a consideration of the cycles of consumption and excretion, birth and death, creation and decay, in art and in life.

Dieter Roth. Bunny‑dropping‑bunny (Karnickelköttelkarnickel). 1968, published 1972‑82.

Dieter Roth. Bunny‑dropping‑bunny (Karnickelköttelkarnickel). 1968, published 1972‑82. Multiple of straw and rabbit droppings. Publisher: the artist and Eat Art Galerie, Düsseldorf. Fabricator: Walter Moser, Basel. Edition: 250. The Museum of Modern Art, New York. Committee on Prints and Illustrated Books Fund. Photograph: John Wronn. © 2013 Estate of Dieter Roth

While rather adorable, the Bunny is also a complex work of art. It forms part of Roth’s ever-evolving iconographic alphabet, in which images stand in for letters and can be used to make visual poems. It is likely a dig at his artistic rival and colleague Joseph Beuys, who had adopted the hare in his work as a multivalent symbol, connected to fertility and to pagan and Christian iconography, and whom Roth suggests is literally “full of shit.” And it references a legendary artistic precedent, Piero Manzoni’s 1961 multiple, merda d’artista, an edition of tin cans purportedly filled with the artist’s feces.

Homage to the Bunny-dropping-bunny by Alex Diczok. 2013.

Homage to the Bunny-dropping-bunny by Alex Diczok. 2013.

The Bunny has also become a staff favorite, and my prints department colleague, Alex Diczok, made this inspired homage after viewing our Roth multimedia clip, Staying Fresh, which describes some of the conservation concerns raised by organic works like this one. Her version is filled with gummy worm “vermin,” covered in sugar flower “blooms,” and even features chocolate-covered raisin “droppings.” Alex says of her Roth-inspired creation: “seasonal treats appear on our table in the Department of Prints and Illustrated Books often, only to be devoured before the day is through. This repurposed Easter bunny is a nod to Roth’s playfulness with our senses. The materials are pure sugar, and despite their evocation of a bunny past its prime, one can’t help but wish to lend a hand to its inevitable demise.”