Rare Bird: John James Audubon and Contemporary Art features original artworks by John James Audubon in conversation with works by nine contemporary artists: Brandon Ballengée, Walton Ford, Harri Kallio, Nina Katchadourian, Kate MccGwire, James Prosek, Duke Riley, Susannah Sayler and Edward Morris. The works displayed include paintings, photographs, and sculptures that reflect the legacy and spirit of Audubon, a preeminent artist, naturalist, and self-taught ornithologist who rose from Montgomery County roots to become a beloved and influential figure in American history.
Audubon’s gorgeously detailed prints are instantly recognizable and appealing to viewers of all generations. His works can therefore act as a gateway into what are sometimes perceived as opaque forms of contemporary art, creating a dialogue between artworks from different eras and presenting opportunities for the kinds of interdisciplinary learning and discussions that are at the heart of the Berman Museum’s programing.
In addition to presenting fine examples of Audubon’s nineteenth-century drawings, watercolors, and prints, Rare Bird explores the work of nine contemporary artists who take the bird and our awareness of the natural world as their muse. Many of the works in the exhibition address important topical issues that are relevant today, such as the extinction of various species of birds—the Passenger pigeon, for example—over the last few hundred years and increasingly since Audubon’s time.
John James Audubon was an artist and naturalist, but he was also an explorer and adventurer. The contemporary artists featured in Rare Bird share that curious drive. From Duke Riley’s audacious project “Trading with the Enemy,” in which he trains homing pigeons to fly smuggled cigars from Havana to Key West, to Harri Kallio’s fictional reenactment of the long extinct Dodo bird on Mauritius island and English artist Kate MccGwire’s strangely beautiful and beautifully strange sculptures made with hundreds of bird feathers, Rare Bird seeks uniqueness and rarity amongst birds of a feather.
Rare Bird: John James Audubon and Contemporary will open at the Berman Museum on January 21 and will continue until April 3.