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Animals & Us: The Animal in Contemporary Art > Additional Information
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Galerie St. Etienne

Animals & Us
- Additional Information -

While animals have been a recurrent theme in contemporary art for at least thirty years, interest in the subject has grown enormously in the last decade. ANIMALS & US: The Animal in Contemporary Art presents a broad overview of this topic as it has evolved from the 1960s to the present. Included will be works by Joseph Beuys, Sue Coe, Ann Craven, Gregory Crewdson, Mark Dion, Walton Ford, Peter Hujar, Jeff Koons, Sally Mann, Frank Noelker, Rona Pondick, Alexis Rockman, Victor Schrager, Kiki Smith, Hiroshi Sugimoto, William Wegman and others. The exhibition will be on view from April 1 through May 22, 2004. The show coincides with the publication of Captive Beauty: Zoo Portraits by Frank Noelker, who will be present at the gallery to sign copies of his book on May 19 from 6 to 8 PM.

Joseph Beuys was one of the first contemporary artists to engage animal subject matter in a sustained, substantive manner. Searching for spiritual authenticity in an increasingly mechanized, materialistic world, he introduced two strands of inquiry that have remained important for subsequent artists: the exploration of the animal/human divide, and the political implications of that divide. Recognizing that our relationships with animals are invariably mediated by prior pictorial conventions and prejudices, many artists begin their explorations by examining the language of representation. Jeff Koons and Ann Craven consciously subvert the kitsch sentimentality that characterizes pop culture animal imagery. Walton Ford and Alexis Rockman reference the more ostensibly objective traditions of John James Audubon and the natural sciences respectively. In so doing, they call into question the truth of this alleged objectivity, while at the same time exposing the limitations of the scientific approach.

Artists are also increasingly calling into question the brutal aggressiveness with which scientists and other humans treat animals, as well as the notion that people are inherently separate from and superior to other specie
Recent developments in genetic engineering and an apparent rise in illnesses transmitted from animals to people (such as SARS and mad cow disease) further highlight the permeability of the boundaries separating other species from us. Kiki Smith and Rona Pondick explore our innate kinship with animals by creating hybrid animal/human self-portraits. Sue Coe’s art is devoted to documenting her belief that biotechnology and agribusiness derive from a misguided attempt to control nature that is both unspeakably cruel to animals and potentially harmful to humans. While most people today no longer have regular contact with farm animals, the industrialization of animal husbandry has been accompanied by an increase in the importance of pet ownership, and this, in turn, has intensified our emotional engagement with animals. William Wegman’s photographs of his weimaraners reflect the collaborative symbiosis that is the hallmark of the "new pet": the animal as equal participant in a cooperative dynamic.

Although the artists in the present exhibition take varying approaches, much of the work is implicitly political, suggesting that the subjugation of animals is akin to other forms of exploitation by the powerful of the weak. Recovering the connection to animals that was lost through industrialization may thus be both spiritually restorative and profoundly subversive, challenging hierarchies that have dominated our relationship to non-human species for millennia. By exploring these themes, ANIMALS & US raises issues that are important not only within the art community but also for society at large.

ANIMALS & US: The Animal in Contemporary Art is documented by a comprehensive checklist, which is available by mail free of charge upon request or can be downloaded from the gallery’s web site www.gseart.com.




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