This is the final exhibition in a series of collection-based installations that consider the trajectory of traditionally defined genres in art and the ways in which they continue to flourish while often being challenged and transformed. In Menagerie: Animals on View, creatures—furred or feathered—are featured as agents of storytelling, humorous personifications, and echoes of the human spirit.
Over time, animals have emerged as an established artistic motif. The gestural images of horses made tens of thousands of years ago on the walls of caves in Lascaux, France, are some of the earliest forms of visual expression. In the mid–eighteenth century, animals became a prominent theme in painting and sculpture. Artists began combining scientific principles with creative observation; the characteristics, habits, and environments of faunae were of significant interest. At the same time, the narratives found in illustrated fables and political satires offered unique opportunities to anthropomorphize animals. By instilling human personality in cats and dogs, for example, the genre shifted toward a new form of revelation. From images of affection and beauty to those that are funny and peculiar, the enduring bond between man and beast prevailed.
What is it about this particular topic that artists find so compelling? Animals are a source of companionship, comfort, and food, but perhaps it is the way they also emulate our emotions that offers a unique entry point for the viewer. While such imagery may tug at our heartstrings, it simultaneously points toward a bond that exceeds spoken, painted, or sculpted representation. This exhibition explores the ways in which this vast subject has evolved into a mirror of the most intimate aspects of the psyche but dually serves as a reflection of the social and political environment. Creatures, great and small, prompt us to consider the dynamics of dominance, oppression, and exclusion as parallels of human society.
Credit: Exhibition overview from museum website.