Bestiary took its inspiration from medieval compendia of wondrous creatures, both natural and fantastic. Bestiaries defy modern book genres; they blend moralizing tales, natural history, and fascinating images of non-human animals to astonish and entertain. We continue to regard beasts in similar ways—as emblematic devices for understanding our world and ourselves. How we define the non-human can shape our conceptions of what it means to be human, our codes of morality and ethics, our ideas about rights and obligations.
Drawn from the permanent collection, Bestiary staged creaturely encounters between visitors and their non-human counterparts. In viewing these works, we might wonder at changing conceptions of bestial subjectivity across different cultural contexts and movements including the Renaissance, Romanticism, Surrealism, and our own contemporary moment, as we face climate change and accelerating rates of extinction.
Works in this exhibition included an anonymous fifteenth-century engraving of a lion, a dragon, and a fox quarreling; a monumental lobster by Richard Müller; and an ethereal anemone by Kiki Smith.