Bestiary: Animals as Symbols and Metaphors

On View Now
Jun 11, 2022
- Dec 3, 2022
2nd Floor: The Gregory D. Ivy and Weatherspoon Guild Galleries

Ernst Barlach, Riding Urian (the Devil), 1922–23, from Walpurgisnacht (Walpurgis Night). Woodcut on paper, edition of 120, 11 1/2 x 9 3/8 in.
Weatherspoon Art Museum, UNC Greensboro. Museum purchase with funds from the Benefactors Fund, 1976.2362

The Guild and Ivy galleries will be awash with an array of beasts this summer. No cause for concern, however, as this menagerie consists solely of two- and three-dimensional representations of familiar animals, many of which are quite benign and intriguing. Drawn from the museum’s collection and arranged by species, the exhibition is a contemporary look at the old bestiary tradition. Both a literary and illustrative genre that originated in the ancient world, bestiaries served as a kind of natural history, cataloging known and mythological animals as well as providing moralizing allegories. The tradition continues in artwork by modern and contemporary artists who likewise use the appearance and habits of animals to comment on human behavior. This exhibition enlarges the concept of animals as symbols by also including depictions of beasts that evoke figurative expressions. A few of the artworks portray the animal kingdom in general, but most focus on a single beast: horses, lambs, apes, snakes, birds of prey and other fowl, whales, cows, and insects, as well as domesticated cats and dogs. Artworks range from Peter Agostini’s mythological wonder to Tom Rankin’s and Kiki Smith’s sacrificial lambs, and from Ai Weiwei’s nod to social media platforms to Anne Arnold’s anthropomorphic cats. This “zoo” is definitely worth a visit!

Organized by Elaine D. Gustafson, curator and head of collections and facilities.