Photographs by Special to the Democrat-Gazette/MARCIA SCHNEDLER
Adonna Khare’s Elephants is displayed in the “Animal Meet Human” exhibition at Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art in Bentonville.
Thursday, August 10, 2017
BENTONVILLE -- This year's headline visitor to Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art is Dale Chihuly's blown-glass work, displayed indoors and outdoors at the world-class facility blessed by Alice Walton's vast wealth and artful eye.
However, a smaller temporary exhibit also deserves the admiring eyes of museumgoers. This free show occupies a single gallery, showcasing the work of seven artists under the title "Animal Meet Human." There is whimsy to some of the art, adding to viewers' pleasure.
A sign above the entrance asserts that "from Stone Age paintings on cave walls to artwork created today, animals are among the most enduring subjects of visual art through the ages. But what may seem like a simple tribute to a creature can also be a subtle reflection of human concerns." The show's theme "explores the ways contemporary artists address human issues by depicting an animal presence."
Dominating the exhibit space is the 36-foot-long triptych Elephants, a carbon-pencil mural that won California artist Adonna Khare a $200,000 first-place award five years ago in the international ArtPrize competition. The drawing, she says, "is about the interconnectedness of life and the experiences we all share. Good or bad, we all have similarities and are tied together often not by choice."
Given its entwined imagery, Khare's elaborately detailed menagerie may remind some viewers of work by the 15th and 16th-century Dutch artist Hieronymus Bosch, famed for the fantastic and sometimes hellish creatures of his triptychs. Khare's great apes and an array of other mammals and birds, some far out of proportion to their actual sizes, reward extended scrutiny.
The show's most famous artist, Andy Warhol, is represented by 10 vivid panels from his "Endangered Species Series." They are as varied as the black rhinoceros, the Pine Barrens tree frog, the bald eagle and the San Francisco silverspot.
An information panel notes "it may seem surprising that Andy Warhol represented animals in these works, when he is much better known for depicting celebrities. Through his use of large images and bright colors, Warhol turned these endangered animals into icons."
The exhibit's only nonrepresentational work, by abstract expressionist Helen Frankenthaler, is titled The Bullfight. Based on a corrida she attended in 1958 while honeymooning in Spain, it employs large swaths of paint to evoke "her visceral reaction to the bloodshed and overall violence of the spectacle in a way that marries her application of paint with the subject matter."
Joan Brown's winsome Self-Portrait With Fish and Cat shows the California artist holding a paint brush to denote her occupation. She also grasps a sizable fish in supposed reference to her "passion for swimming," while the black cat at her feet represents the many pets she has nurtured over the years.
Jamie Wyeth's Cornflakes creates a visual pun portraying a rooster "instantly associated with the Cornflakes brand." He "plays with our ability to recognize this imagery by humorously depicting an actual rooster standing in front of a bag of Cornflakes."
It may seem odd that Bo Bartlett's The Lobster Wars does not show even one of those flavorful crustaceans -- although there may be a few in the lobster trap next to the fisherman with the purposeful look. A text panel avers that "without depicting a single lobster, the painting speaks to the presence of these animals."
Renowned for his virtuosity as a modern dancer and choreographer, Merce Cunningham makes an unexpected appearance here with an untitled set of 56 small ink drawings. He began sketching animals at New York's Central Park Zoo and produced drawings that "function as artworks in their own right," but "also acted as inspiration for his choreography."
Meanwhile, "Chihuly: In the Gallery" closes on Monday. The partner "Chihuly: In the Forest," on display in the museum's Ozark woods, can be viewed through Nov. 13. There is a Chihuly admission charge: $20 through Monday for the paired shows, then $10 for only "In the Forest."
Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art, 600 Museum Way, Bentonville, is open 11 a.m.-6 p.m. Monday, 11 a.m.-9 p.m. Wednesday-Friday, 10 a.m.-6 p.m. Saturday-Sunday. Admission is free to the permanent collection and some temporary exhibits, including "Animal Meet Human," which continues until Oct. 30.
Visit crystalbridges.org or call (479) 418-5700.
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