Even someone who is not in tune with the art world would probably recognize the names Andy Warhol and Ai Weiwei.
Warhol is best known for his colorful commentary on American consumerism and is widely regarded as the Father of Pop Art. Weiwei has a diverse portfolio of contemporary work, ranging from architecture and sculptural installations to photography, that has provoked the government of his native China and delighted viewers throughout the world.
While incredibly different at first glance, the two legendary creators have more in common than what may first meet the eye, including a penchant for taking creative risks and a skill for using art to promote activism.
This Friday the National Museum of Wildlife Art will unveil a new exhibit titled “Valued Species: Animals in the Art of Andy Warhol and Ai Weiwei.” The show samples the two artists’ explorations of animals forms and meanings.
The exhibit has been stitched together by NMWA’s Curator of Art Tammi Hanawalt, who said she has wanted to bring the two artists together for years because they have both been involved in conservation efforts.
While Weiwei’s work tends to address human elements, and Warhol’s concern for wildlife and nature conservation is more evident, Hanawalt said both look at art “as consumerism.”
“So, [“Valued Species”] looks at how we value both art and wildlife,” Hanawalt said. “And that’s where I found that commonality between the two.”
“Valued Species” is not be the first time the two artists have been exhibited together, but having the opportunity to showcase them side by side in a town like Jackson is no ordinary feat.
The exhibit will pull from Weiwei’s “Zodiac” series, which consists of animal portraits representing the 12 signs in the Chinese zodiac. Bronze versions of “Zodiac” were on display from May 2015 to January 2016 outside the museum, overlooking the National Elk Refuge. For this version Weiwei used thousands of colorful LEGO building blocks. According to Hanawalt, as much as it addresses animals the series also speaks on politics, identity and even nationalism in China.
“Those heads aren’t necessarily made because they were Chinese fables,” Hanawalt said. “There’s a whole deeper level to that artwork that I would really like people to consider. … I really want them to think about how other cultures have implemented wildlife into art as well.”
“Zodiac” will visit the National Museum of Wildlife Art for a summer vacation from its usual home in a New York City gallery.
Warhol’s contribution, on the other hand, will not have to travel far. The 10 screenprints of his “Endangered Species” series are part of the museum’s permanent collection and are well-liked by museum-goers, Hanawalt said, depicting animals listed on the Endangered Species Act of 1973.
“Andy Warhol had the idea of making celebrities more like divine beings, by honoring them, the way they’re looked at, and considering the way they’re looked at in culture,” Hanawalt said. “He did the same thing with these animals that were becoming extinct at the time.”
The curator said the exhibit will also consider what has happened to the animals since Warhol created the prints. The majority, she said, remain on the endangered species list.
“Valued Species” will hang alongside another of Hanawalt’s recent shows, “Un/Natural Selections,” which explores how contemporary art depicts and uses wildlife. She said the two exhibits complement each other nicely.
“I think together the whole thing is a really great experience,” Hanawalt said.
Visitors can find “Valued Species” in the museum through early October.
General admission tickets are available on the National Museum of Wildlife Art website at WildlifeArt.org/visit/buy-tickets, or can purchased day-of in person. ￼