"Menagerie: The Art of Animals" is an exhibition true to its name. The Forest Lawn Museum along with guest co-curator and artist William Stout have assembled a collection of art that depicts animal subjects, including bronze and paper sculpture, animation art and paleoart, produced by more than two dozen artists spanning more than two centuries. Paintings by Los Angeles Zoo resident Rosie the Orangutan and insect wrangler Steven R. Kutcher are a fun contribution to the exhibition, adding a new dimension to the term Animal Art with their depictions and observations.
Charles Marion Russell (1864 – 1926), famous for painting and sculpting in the American West genre, is represented in the exhibition by three small bronze sculptures — a wolf, a pig and a bison. Though diminutive, 1.5 inches to 7.5 inches, his pieces are significant for their lifelike characteristics and motion. Likely working from firsthand observation of his subjects, the artist frees creatures from bronze, giving the appearance of natural movement, not posed, in pursuit of activities in the animal world. Russell's well-recognized interpretation of Lewis and Clark Meeting the Flathead Indians hangs in the Capitol building in Helena, Mont. Many other bronze sculptors from various time periods and continents are represented in the exhibition including Peter Brooke, Antoine Louis Barye and Sirio Tofanari.
Walt Disney is well represented in the Menagerie. Tyrus Wong's conceptual drawing of Bambi (1942) for Walt Disney Studios gives viewers a hint at the beginning of the playful fawn character. Andreas Deja's "Lioness Hunting Zebra" demonstrates the artist's thumbprint on Disney's animated film "The Lion King," and Marc Davis, credited with creating many of Disney's leading animated ladies — Snow White, Cinderella, Maleficent, Cruella De Vil and Tinker Bell — was partially responsible for the development of the Dalmatian characters.
Davis' zoo sketchbook and Dalmatian model sheets are available for viewing and are a fun insight into the development of one of Disney's most successful and beloved stories. Leon Joosen's "Paper Lion" paper sculpture is excellent for both its engineering and caricature, very nearly a culmination of the many Disney lions.
What would Hollywood do without animal artists? Paleoart, a subgenre of animal art, interprets from a scientific basis, possible characteristics of prehistoric creatures. Artist, collector and co-curator of this exhibition, Stout is well known for his accurate reconstructions of dinosaurs. His work inspired the novel and subsequent movie "Jurassic Park." Stout contributes heavily to the show with a variety of animal subjects of his own creation, rendered primarily in oil on canvas. He also shares from his collection of paleoart, several works by Charles Robert Knight who is credited with visually defining prehistoric life for the world. The Knight pieces on view are primarily bronze, pencil, charcoal and gouache on board. His charcoal drawing titled "Caveman and Mammoth" could have inspired other feature animation films — perhaps "Ice Age" and its sequels?
Steven R. Kutcher defines his art as insect footprint art. Yes he dips their little feet in paint and encourages them to dance across watercolor paper. Kutcher is technically an insect wrangler for motion pictures and has movies "Arachnophobia," "Jurassic Park," and "Spiderman" on his list of credentials. The Darkling beetles who perform Kutcher's art do not vary much in their choreography, which limits the interest level of the art, but what is very fun to see are Kutcher's photographs of the beetle dancing painting process! Be sure to visit the museum shop for the note cards.
"Menagerie; The Art of Animals" expands on the definition of animal art. Animals are not just subject matter. Rosie the Orangutan contributes an abstract painting titled "Kaleidoscope," tempera on canvas, to the show. The Greater Los Angeles Zoo Assn. Collection shares this colorful and interesting piece. Variations of greens and blues, yellow, purple and orange are brushed, spattered and smeared. The canvas has been crushed and folded, which resulted in inkblot like forms. The balance is good and the texture to the canvas strings along the imagination. Way to go, Rosie! Pollack would be proud!
The Forest Lawn Museum exhibition defines and surrounds animal art well. It is fun, historical and interesting for the entire family.
Terri Martin is an art historian, artist and art critic.
What: "Menagerie: The Art of Animals"
When: 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesday through Sunday until Jan. 2
Where: Forest Lawn Museum, 1712 S. Glendale Ave., Glendale
Contact: (800) 204-3131 or visit http://www.ForestLawn.comCopyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun