From August 3 - November 25, 2018, the Biggs Museum
will host an exhibition of over 50 original etchings and lithographs of well-known artist and naturalist John James Audubon. The works will be displayed alongside the work of contemporary artists from America and the United Kingdom who have been influenced by his monumental animal studies.
Audubon, Then and Now
In 1826 when John James Audubon turned 41, his wife encouraged him to travel to England to find innovative ways to reproduce over 300 watercolor bird studies into one of the most important projects in art history. He had been studying rare and beautiful birds across the North American landscape for over a decade and had amassed an enormous library of original images and field notes. These images formed his iconic, monumental Birds of America totaling over 400 life-size studies of his avian obsessions. In a few years, Audubon also began the equally ambitious project of recording mammals as well in the Viviparous Quadrupeds of North America.
The best-known accomplishments of this painter, printmaker, publisher and naturalist were immediately popular on two continents, influencing artists and designers throughout America and the United Kingdom. The creation of his images have remined a constant influence upon science, natural preservation and the visual arts to this day. Artists continue to draw upon his aesthetics and the romantic impression of his artistic process with a wide variety of works, from photography to painting to sculpture.
The Biggs Museum will display over 50 original Audubon prints from both Birds and Quadrupeds, graciously lent by Winterthur Museum, Garden and Library and the Huntsville Museum of Art, with 20 works created by leading contemporary artists today including, but not limited to, Jamie Wyeth, Kevin Sloan and Beth Cavener. Today's artists allow viewers to see Audubon's artworks in new lights, to think about this adventurous and entertaining naturalist in new ways. This exhibition of contrasts, new and old, is crafted to explore the novel artistic choices that Audubon made, to witness his attention to scientific observation, to appreciate him as an early recorder of American regionalism and better understand his complicated relationship to the animal world.
"We are exceptionally proud of this exhibition that the staff of the Biggs Museum has carefully curated over the past several years," shared Director Charles Guerin. "Many of the original Audubon prints in this show have not been on view in our area for several decades. Furthermore, the exhibition will be a regional introduction of several of the international contemporary artists in the exhibition. Artists of stature within the contemporary artworld really responded enthusiastically to the museum's invitation to show work in this exhibition - what they sent is amazing."
The works of the exhibiting, contemporary artists were selected for Audubon, Then and Now for their fresh and unique perspectives on the tradition of naturalist artworks by early practitioners such as Mark Catesby, Alexander Wilson and, of course, John James Audubon. Today's opinion of the naturalist tradition are quite varied, encompassing criticism, veneration, irony and modern techniques which bring a rich layer of interpretation to the historical images on view within the Biggs Museum's exhibition.