‘Rare Bird’ Exhibition Lands in Berman Museum

The exhibition takes flight from the works of John James Audubon and provides a gateway into the world of contemporary art. A new artist conversation series speaks to what we all may have in common. 

The new exhibition Rare Bird: John James Audubon and Contemporary Art features original artwork by John James Audubon in conversation with works by a select group of contemporary artists. An opening reception is scheduled Jan. 29 from 4 to 7 p.m.

On display at the Philip and Muriel Berman Museum of Art through April 8, the exhibition includes paintings, photographs and sculptures that reflect the legacy and spirit of Audubon, an iconic artist, naturalist, and self-taught ornithologist who rose from Montgomery County, Pa. roots to become a beloved and influential figure in American history. 

The 10 contemporary artists featured in the exhibition are Brandon Ballengée, Walton Ford, Harri Kallio, Nina Katchadourian, Kate MccGwire, James Prosek, Duke Riley, Alice Sharp and the artist duo Susannah Sayler and Edward Morris.

The exhibition seeks to make contemporary art accessible, says museum director Charles Stainback. “People often say they don’t understand the ideas behind contemporary art,” he said. “Framing this exhibition around Audubon and limiting the subject to birds provides an entryway into the ambiguous world of contemporary art.”

Stainback, who was raised in a community where contemporary art was not commonplace, added that the “contemporary works featured in this exhibition are at once thought-provoking and fun. A flock of passenger pigeons will invade the museum while the extinct Dodo bird will be portrayed in its natural habitat. Visitors can view a video of people on a party boat captured by a trained pigeon cameraman while appreciating Audubon’s nineteenth-century drawings, watercolors, and prints.” 

New this year, the Berman Conversations event series pairs an Ursinus faculty member with one of the artists featured in Rare Bird. The first program in the series takes place Feb. 11 and features a conversation between artist Edward Morris and Kelly Sorensen, associate professor of philosophy and assistant dean.

“We wanted to offer a departure from the standard artist presentation,” Stainback explained. “These programs are intended as authentic two-way dialogues. The pairings were made not necessarily with particular shared interests in mind, but rather by noting each individual’s natural curiosity, openness, and desire to engage in new ideas and experiences. This is the pilot run for a new type of event at the museum, but we hope it will become a standard part of our programming moving forward.”

“I’m confident,” added Stainback, “that this new series will lead to intriguing discussions, unknown passions, unexpected connections, and the realization that we all have much more in common than we might initially think.”


Events and Public Programs 

Spring Reception
Jan. 29
4 to 7 p.m.


Berman Conversations

Feb. 11, 7 p.m.
Artist Edward Morris and Kelly Sorensen, associate professor of philosophy and assistant dean

Feb. 18, 7 p.m.
Artist Harri Kallio and Edward Onaci, assistant professor of history

March 22, 7 p.m.
Artist James Prosek and Ellen Dawley, professor of biology

March 31, 7 p.m.
Artist Brandon Ballengée and Nathan Rein, associate professor of religious studies



Feb. 25, 7 p.m.
“Audubon’s Last Great Adventure,” with Robert Peck, senior fellow at the Academy of Natural Sciences of Drexel University

March 23, 7 p.m. 
“Alexander Wilson, a Contemporary of Audubon” with Jon Volkmer, professor of English