Nature and art are a beautiful mix, a sublime experience; this has been said for many years by many different poets, artists and philosophers alike, so there will always be something special about Turner Contemporary’s location, designed by David Chipperfield in 2011 overlooking the North Sea and offering a moment for serene contemplation. Their latest exhibition ‘Animals and Us’, lends itself exquisitely to this relationship, as curators present a narrative of animals in art over the years.
Animals and the natural world are consistently expressed and displayed, and yet, although the show is at times quite disjointed, it bizarrely gains substance and momentum as the viewer moves through the space, which feels odd in a gallery of the Turner’s scale. This is not wholly due to the fact that contemporary works are placed alongside fourteenth-century ruin artefacts, it is more so that the subject matter jumps from serious to comical and ‘cute’ to the point that the viewer requires a little more direction as to the purpose of the exhibition.
That being said, the range will please a wide audience, from a photographic series of hero 9/11 dogs by Charlotte Dumas to Marc Chagall’s fantastic painting ‘The Cat Transformed into a Woman’ from the Second World War era. One instance in which the disparity between works and ideas is problematic, is Laura Ford’s recent large-scale sculpture ‘A King’s Appetite’, a dead giraffe with a tragic backstory of abuse and trauma being presented with cartoonish influences from Alice in Wonderland and Dumbo.
One great joy of a space like Turner Contemporary being outside the city is that high-profile artists such as Cory Arcangel, Mark Dion, Tracey Emin and Picasso can reach new eyes and inspire different groups of people. Highlights of the exhibition include points where we are reminded of our impact on the environment and, more directly, its wildlife; Shimabuku’s film work ‘Do Snow Monkeys Remember Snow Mountains?’ sees the artist bring a sample of ice to “snow monkeys” relocated to and readjusted in Texas. Similarly, the works reminding us of animals’ ability to protect and comfort mankind are particularly charming and a welcome addition to the exhibition, the most notable being the aforementioned series by Charlotte Dumas and Alice Neel’s portrait of her son with his dog, ‘Richard with Dog’, which exposes hidden psychologies between pet and owner and so aesthetically vibrant that it could have been painted yesterday.
Indeed, the relationships between man and pet are timeless and although global issues such as climate change are addressed, the exhibition is refreshingly wholesome. Bringing together artists in different media from a range of time periods, the viewer is treated to an exhibition in a national institution which manages to feel close-to-home and close to our hearts.
Words by Issey Scott
Animals and Us, at Turner Contemporary, Margate, UK, until 30 September 2018