Leading Museums, Museum Leaders

Curious Beasts – animal prints on display

Rhinoceros, Albrecht Dürer, 1515 at the Curious Beasts exhibition. ABC News: Tom Fedorowytsch

John Neylon, Curious beasts and where to see them, Adelaide Review, 12 December 2016

John Neylon ventures into the South Australian Museum’s latest exhibition, Curious Beasts: Animal prints from Durer to Goya and likes what he finds.

I thought we’d come a long way from bear baiting and cock fighting – until the US elections got under way. Now that put Question Time in the Australian Lower House Parliament in the cat spat category. That we can talk about decency to animals as one hallmark of civilised society is a sign that in some national legislatures at least progress has been made.

But for every single domestic creature protected by law or guidelines there are countless others, including whole species, staring down the barrel as habitat clearance, poaching, feral predation and over exploitation take their toll. And did I tell you that a neighbour just spent $000s on vet and cosmetic surgery for his Cavoodle? And that’s not taking into account the rehab costs for Black Hawk Holistic K9 Dry Lamb and Rice for Adult Dogs addiction.

Getting the balance right between human and animal realms seems more challenging than ever. Curious Beasts doesn’t claim to have the solution. But in giving expression to senses of relationship with what used to be called ‘the animal kingdom’ it portrays this facet of human consciousness as central to what it means to be human.

Curious Beasts draws on the British Museum’s rich and extensive collection of prints, and the 15th to 19th century period in particular. This is the first time an exhibition from this institution has been presented in Adelaide. It is in fact the rarest of opportunities to see such a stellar line-up of remarkable works by by iconic artists including Durer, Rembrandt and Goya – unless of course you’ve wised up to the fact that The Art Gallery of SA regularly exhibits from its own extensive collection of old master prints and drawings.

First exhibited in London, Curious Beasts has a touring life of five venues with the SA Museum the last. Then for many of these Down Under tourists it’s back to the the solander boxes for a Bex and a good lie down. The core exhibition is constructed around three themes; Animals Allegorical, Animals Observed and Animals Encountered. These themes have been amplified and complemented by additional works drawn from the British Museum and SA Museum collections.

Of particular interest are works that express something of the intrigue that Antipodean creatures held for Europeans. Look out for a quite extraordinary mash up of bush denizens; Thomas Landseer’s koala and wombat climbing a gum tree with a kangaroo and thylacine below. All that is missing is a black swan or two and a Hills Hoist out the back.

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Council of Australasian Museum Directors c/o Mr Brian Oldman, South Australian Museum PO Box 234 Adelaide, South Australia 5001 Australia, © CAMD 2022
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