It’s been one brilliant season for animals in art.
After years of taxidermy sculptures, live creatures are en vogue. Darren Bader offered up an iguana and adorable cats at his MoMA PS1 show. Bjarne Melgaard hired two adorable five-and-a-half-month-old white tigers to model collars made by designer Ms. Fitz for his show at Ramiken Crucible. This summer, Nina Beier will present “a performance in which a live dog plays dead as it lies on a Persian rug” at Metro Pictures. No doubt there will be more animal art on the horizon.
To toast this trend, let’s take a look back at some of the most iconic works of contemporary art’s trailblazing animals.
Maurizio Cattelan, Warning! Enter at Your Own Risk — Do Not Touch, Do Not Feed, No Smoking, No Photographs, No Dogs, Thank You, 1993
Maurizio Cattelan put this beautiful donkey on view at the Daniel Newburg Gallery in Soho back in 1993. Sadly, various neighbors complained about the animal's braying and the show was shuttered shortly after it opened.
Robert Rauschenberg, Spring Training, 1960's
Life is short, but art is long—and sometimes it's slow, as when Rauschenberg strapped flashlights on the back of 30 turtles for one happening. We couldn't find a photo of the performance, so this handsome turtle will have to do.
Courtesy Peter Lee/Flickr
Mircea Cantor, The Need for Uncertainty, 2008
Critic Jonathan Jones called this peacock work "hysterical nonsense." Agree to disagree: they are princely creatures, absolutely stunning, if mercurial birds.
Courtesy Yvon Lambert Gallery
Jannis Kounellis, Untitled, 1967
Although the parrot in this work Untitled (Rimbaud) (1980) is stuffed, the artists has worked with a living parrot before. Untitled (1967) involved a trestle hung by a metal plate on a wall, dirt, cacti, birdseed and yes, a living parrot. Polly want relational aesthetics?
Jannis Kounellis, "Untitled (Rimbaud)," 1980 (Courtesy Haydar Koyupinar and the artist)
Jannis Kounellis, Untitled, 2006
The concept is simple: a big bowl of water, a butcher knife, and a goldfish swimming around in this conceptual stew. When Modern Art Oxford exhibited it recently, it was accompanied by a wall text: "Modern Art Oxford would like to inform visitors that expert advice has been sought regarding the welfare of the fish in this exhibition." Good thing they checked into it because this goldfish is definitely cuuuuuuuteeeeeeeeeeee.
Jannis Kounellis, "Untitled," 2006, (Courtesy Acik Hava and the artist)
Jannis Kounellis, Untitled, 1969
A few years ago, Cheim & Reid described the horse project, wherein the artist placed twelve real horses in a rectangular exhibitions pace as deconstructing "set ideas of artistic practice and referenced the horse's long history of cultural and artistic representation." So there's that sure, but he also really went above and beyond on those horses. Look at those flanks! Those are some fine horses. Way better than the horses you see in most paintings, even. Fine, fine horses. Horses you can take home to Mom.
Jannis Kounellis, "Untitled," 1969 (Courtesy Museo Madre and the artist)
Wim Delvoye, Slobodan, 2004
Belgian artist Wim Delvoye started tattooing pig skins in the early 1990's, and after a few years, graduated to live pigs. He moved his tattooing operations to an Art Farm in China in 2004 because they have lighter restrictions about animal cruelty there.
Koen Vanmechelen, Cosmpolitan Chicken Project, 1990s
Belgian artist Koen Vanmechelen has been building chicken coups in galleries across the world--including at Conner Contemporary in Washington, D.C.--and cross-breeding different kinds of chickens in order to create a “world-mongrel” chicken. As far as installations go, it’s a pretty cool project to see inside a commercial gallery, aside from that whole chicken shit thing.
Courtesy Connor Contemporary
Bjarne Melgaard's Tigers at Ramiken Crucible, 2012
These noble white tigers were on view at the Lower East Side gallery Ramiken Crucible earlier this month. They were resting when we stopped by, after a long day of playing in their cage. (Them, not us. We didn't enter the cage.)
Photo by Andrew Russeth
Gabriel Orozco's ping-pong table and Koi pond at the de la Cruz collection, 2011
The only thing better than watching two games of Ping-Pong played across one another is being able to take a peek at a pond filled with carp while that takes place. Smart design, Mr. Orozco.
Courtesy de la Cruz Collection
Carsten Höller and Rosemarie Trockel, A House for Pigs and People, 1997
The duo's pigs stole the show at Documenta X in Kassel, Germany.
Courtesy International Journal of Baudrillard Studies
Pierre Huyghe's Recollection, 2011
This brave hermit crab lived inside a Brancusi sculpture at London's Frieze Art Fair. Then it traveled all the way to Miami Beach for Art Basel. Weirdly adorable and surreal.
Courtesy Frieze Foundation
Darren Bader's cats at MoMA PS1 in 2012
These cute little guys were hiding under a couch when we visited.
Photo by Andrew Russeth
Darren Bader's goat at Andrew Kreps Gallery, 2011
When Mr. Bader has a major museum retrospective, it is going to be like Noah's Ark inside.
Courtesy the artist and Andrew Kreps Gallery
Darren Bader's iguanas at MoMA PS1 in 2012
In contrast, Mr. Bader's iguana seemed completely uninterested in the museum visitors. He was just relaxing, enjoying a lazy Sunday in its home.
Photo by Andrew Russeth
Joseph Beuys, I Like America and America Likes Me, 1974
For this 1974 piece, Joseph Beuys flew to America, wrapped himself in felt and rode in an ambulance to the Rene Block Gallery where he shared a room with a live coyote for three days. He remained wrapped in the felt for the entire time. The coyote would sometimes gnaw at the fabric, circle the artist as if hunting him; other times it would just stare. Beuys embraced the coyote after the three days were over, boarded the ambulance again and drove back to the airport and left the country.
Oleg Kulik, I Bite America and America Bites Me, 1997
Humans are animals too, of course. Especially when they act like them. Mr. Kulik was one frightening beast!
Courtesy the artist and Deitch Projects