Head to the Grant Museum of Zoology at UCL from today, and you can see an exhibition of art by animals.
Firmly planted in the “London really does have it all” category, this new show is displaying art by elephants and apes from around the world. One highlight is a painting of a flowerpot by the elephant Boon Me, who we’re told used to be a logging elephant in Thailand. (Presumably before he got his calling to don a beret and spend hours with his head on one side, brush in trunk, staring at blank canvases.)
Other pieces have been created by orang-utans, gorillas and chimps. Their handiwork is on show alongside animal specimens and historical documentation. The exhibition raises the question of whether animals can make art, and why some animal creations are considered valuable, while others are dismissed as meaningless.
Jack Ashby, Manager of the Grant Museum of Zoology, says, “Whether this is actually art is the big question. While individual elephants are trained to always paint the same thing, art produced by apes is a lot more creative and is almost undistinguishable from abstract art by humans that use similar techniques.”
Co-curator Will Tuck says, “Although it is fairly clear that any notion of art by animals is essentially anthropomorphic it starts to raise very interesting questions about the nature of human art.”
Indeed, interest in animal art occurred at the same time as the Abstract Expressionist movement in human art in the 1950s.
Which makes us wonder if the Grant Museum hasn’t missed a trick: why not display the animal art alongside some priceless abstract human art, and get visitors to guess at the particular “animal” talent behind each.
Art by Animals is part of the excellent Humanimals Season at the UCL Grant Museum of Zoology, Rockefeller Building, University College London, University Street, London, WC1 and runs until 9 March: Monday to Fridays between 1 and 5pm. There’s a special Saturday opening 11am to 4pm on 10 March. Admission is free. Visit www.ucl.ac.uk/museums/whats-on/grant_listings for more information.
*Update: this popular show is now on until 13 April.