Posted by: Loren Coleman on October 25th, 2006
The Kansas City Star celebrates the opening of the traveling Bates exhibition with an article by John Shultz, in the October 25, 2006, edition:
It evokes a hallway out of the X-Files, a parallel universe where government spending skews towards the arcane.
At the end of the faux corridor, the very official-looking door for the Federal Wildlife Commission’s Department of Cryptozoology. It’s sandwiched, naturally, between the portals of the National Institute of Comparative Astrobiology and the Bureau for the Investigation of Paranormal Phenomena.
The movie set of a hallway, inspired by a piece by artist Mark Dion, is among the most hulking works of the Kansas City Art Institute’s “Cryptozoology: Out of Time Place Scale” exhibit opening Thursday. The show will be on display at the institute’s H&R Block Artspace at 16 E. 43rd St.
It’s edged out only by an actual hulk: a taxidermist’s towering Sasquatch specimen. Or at least a reasonable facsimile of what an actual taxidermist might do with an actual Sasquatch. If it exists.
The Cryptozoology exhibit makes a mash-up of science and mythology. And that’s exactly what the planners hoped to accomplish.
“We’re recreating this image of nature that’s not entirely a fallacy, but not entirely true either,” said art institute director Raechell Smith.
To that end, 16 artists with a particular interest in the cryptozoologic — basically the study of creatures whose existence remains unproven — submitted pieces.
Joan Fontcuberta provided a series of photographs that document a fictional German scientist hot on the trail of fantastic animals.
Two members of the Minnesota Association of Rogue Taxidermists offer mixed-and-matched stuffed beasts that evoke mythical animals like the Chimera.
Marc Swanson offered up a life-sized sculpture of himself as a Yeti.
The Brooklyn, N.Y., artist’s interest in the cryptozoologic was sparked during his time in college. While studying anthropology, Swanson took a course in frauds, myths and mysteries.
“It’s really a sort of intersection of science and pseudoscience and how those things sort of cross,” Swanson said. “To some people it’s real science and to some people, it’s folklore. Not too long ago these lines were kind of blurred.”
Smith said the entire project took about two to three years to go from concept to show.
“What sort of tied us all together was the art and the role of the artist and how throughout history we’ve relied on the artist to create an image of nature,” she said.
To get a feel for the kind of topics the show tackles, Smith points to legendary showman and huckster P.T. Barnum’s “freak show” displays as an example — particularly the grotesque Fiji Mermaid, a strange mix of humanesque mammal and fish. The museum show includes a version of the curiosity.
“The whole fakery and fraud tradition goes back hundreds of years,” Smith said.
The show got its start at Bates College Museum of Art in Maine four months ago. Museum director Mark Bessire said the show evokes a 19th-century science museum.
“The whole exhibition almost looks like a diorama,” Bates said. “We kept finding good artists who were interested.”
The Kansas City end of the show is scheduled to run through late December. Besides the exhibit itself, a number of lectures are planned around the event.
And the opening of the exhibit dovetails nicely with an upcoming holiday.
“We were certainly trying to open the show here around the time of Halloween,” Smith said. “Thematically it’s an interesting time of the year for things that go bump in the night.”
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