Bjørn Skaarup’s Bronze “Carnival” Features a Giraffe on Stilts and a Scooter-Riding Cheetah
For the offbeat cast of animals in his menagerie of bronze sculptures, Bjørn Skaarup draws from a diverse set of sources: classical mythology, ancient fables, modern animation, late Renaissance art, and 20th-century American popular culture. Cavalier Galleries in Connecticut recently exhibited “Carnival of the Animals,” a veritable zoo of these wild sculptures.
The show’s title was inspired by Le carnaval des animaux by French Romantic composer Camille Saint-Saëns. As in Sergei Prokofiev’s Peter and the Wolf, the musical suite uses different instruments and movements to express characteristics commonly associated with various animals. While Skaarup’s translation takes place in bronze rather than melody and meter, his animals come to life with the same exuberance.
“I’ve always imagined my works to be some sort of imaginary collaboration between the old Cellini and a young Disney,” Skaarup has said. Indeed, many of his large-scale sculptures have fun with famous works of art. Laocoon (2015), for instance, reinterprets the classical Hellenistic sculpture Laocoön and his Sons. Savage serpents, a Trojan priest, and his unfortunate progeny are in this version replaced by a trio of monkeys battling a fierce garden hose.
Hippo Ballerina, Fourth Position (2015) references, in the same breath, Degas’ La petite danseuse de quatorze and Disney’s oafishly graceful pirouetting hippos from Fantasia. And, in a nod to the 16th-century Flemish court sculptor Giambologna, the bronze-and-black-granite statue The Majestic Lion (2015) portrays the king of the jungle regally crowned and in full armor, perched atop a not-so-stately rocking horse.
One part twisted Noah’s Ark, one part modern bestiary, Skaarup’s motley ensemble consists of animals neither wholly anthropomorphized nor entirely untamed. The absurdity reaches new heights in pieces like The Cheetah, The Giraffe, and The Kangaroo (all 2015), where animals make use of human tools to comically enhance themselves. A cheetah soars aboard a scooter, a giraffe gets a leg up with stilts, and a kangaroo is ready to pounce on a pogo stick. While those who encounter Skaarup’s sculptures might not immediately recognize his clever appropriations and allusions, the playfulness won’t jump over anyone’s head.
“Bjørn Skaarup: Carnival of the Animals” was on view at Cavalier Galleries, Greenwich, Connecticut, Jan. 8–Mar. 10, 2016.