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ARTnews Review- Animal Instinct

July 12, 2012

The Douglas Dawson Gallery has been reviewed in the Summer 2012 issue of ARTnews (p. 128) for our Spring show earlier this year, Animal Instinct: Animals in Ethnocraphica. Below is the full review, which illustrates the scope and vibrancy of the collection. While this exhibition is no longer installed in the Gallery, pieces are still available. Please feel free to contact the gallery for more information about the artwork included in this exhibition.

Ranging from a huge wooden water buffalo-shaped coffin to a tiny seal shaped toggle carved from a walrus tusk, the objects in this show reflected human beings’ eternal fascination with animals. “Animal Instinct” featured more than 100 pieces from cultures in South America, Africa, Asia, and beyond and spanned more than 3,500 years, ending in the 20th century. The panoply of storage vessels, masks, accessories, textiles, and funerary objects threatened to overwhelm viewers, yet the organizational scheme, where artifacts were grouped according to the creatures they represented (felines, amphibians and reptiles, birds, etc.), made for a manageable and fascinating presentation.

All of the works displayed remarkable craftsmanship: Most are functional objects elevated by beautiful formal qualities or decorative elements. The 16th-century water buffalo-shaped ossuary, which Indonesia’s Toraja people installed in a limestone cave, was adorned with real horns. Shell ornaments and exquisite carved abstract patterns on this erong’s head and flanks rendered it particularly impressive.

Some animals were considered valuable tools needed in everyday life. A veritable herd of llama vessels and sculptures demonstrated just how important these creatures were to the Inca and other Andean civilizations. Other animals had symbolic power, such as the pangolin (scaly anteater), which Nigeria’s Ekpeye people considered to be both reptile and mammal. Here the beast was depicted on a 1920s dance mask/headdress that sported individually attached triangular scales.

Boli – Bamana, Mali – 20th Century – earth, animal parts, and wood – 20″ x 30″ x 7″

The two most intriguing works on view here were somewhat crude. Earth covers the bodies of these Boli: lumpy, blank faced, four-legged creatures made as ritual objects for a Bamana secret society in Mali. The boli were deliberately ambiguous, according to one to the show’s informative wall text – another curatorial detail that made “Animal Instinct” rival a museum exhibition.

-Lauren Weinberg

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