art by animals – a new exhibition at ucl

3 February 2012 § Leave a comment

Some while back I wrote about animal art (see blog). In was partly in jest, mostly because of an elaborate ‘cat painters’ hoax, but also because of dog ‘artists’ who are just trained to jab a brush at a canvas. However, in respect of chimps I am much more open-minded about potential artistic talent. I am quite willing to believe that they do have the ability to create what they conceive as visually interesting patterns (art?), viz Congo the chimp (pictured) who also actually has an excellent auction record!

I am determined therefore to visit an unusual and quirky exhibition that has just opened at UCL’s Grant Museum of Zoology. Paintings by orang-utans, gorillas, chimpanzees and elephants feature in what is believed to be the first multi species art show. Pieces includes a painting of a flowerpot created by an elephant called Boon Me, formerly involved in the Thai logging industry, and a tiny finger painting by a chimp.

From early modernists like Picasso to abstract expressionists like Jackson Pollock artists have often sought primitive influences. Sometimes it is by using outside inspiration from artwork by primitive peoples, children or even the insane and at others perhaps seeking to go internally to an unconscious or primitive self. How does this differ from the work created by the genuinely ‘primitive’ animal? If primitive or subconscious art is somehow considered more ‘real’ then is animals art not even more genuine that that of the artist? An interesting philosophical question to which I doubt there is a simple answer!

The museum says it hopes the exhibition will help answer the question of whether animal art is really art. “That’s the big question,” said Jack Ashby, the museum manager. “While elephants can be trained to always paint the same thing, art by apes is a lot more creative and is almost indistinguishable from abstract art by humans. Ape art is often compared to that of two or three-year-old children in the ‘scribble stage’. ” Co-curator Mike Tuck, a graduate of the UCL Slade School of Fine Art, said the show was an attempt to take a “broad view of the phenomenon.”

See a short clip from the BBC here.

ART BY ANIMALS  runs from 1 February to 9 March 2012, M-F 1300-1700.

Grant Museum of Zoology, Rockefeller Building, University College London, University Street, WC1E 6DE. Free.

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