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reed magazine logoSummer 2008
Animal Estates Plan

Plan for Fritz Haeg’s Animal Estates, New York, New York, 2008 Whitney Biennial

During the week after the Whitney opening, Haeg arranged for choreographers and dancers to interpret each animal species in the museum’s galleries and corridors. One morning, while leading a tour of the exhibition with a group of students from New York’s School of Visual Arts, I came across a young woman lying on the floor of the fourth-floor gallery. Slowly, she wedged her body into the corner of the room—quivering—an audible distress in her breathing. After a few minutes, exhausted by the effort, the dancer stood up, glanced in the direction of the assembled onlookers, and said quietly, “mason bee.” Behind me I heard Fritz Haeg’s voice say, “Thank you.” The dancer proceeded to the stairwell and moved on to opossum, working her way through each animal species, finally making her way out to Madison Avenue and the bald eagle nest.

It was magical: a succession of modest gestures enacted with grace and precision by an exquisitely trained body. Each dance interrogated the art surrounding it, and us. While interpreting the bobcat, for instance, the dancer sensuously brushed her body against a group of cast resin sculptures. The museum guard looked over, a bit confused, but remained silent. Who could intrude on such an intimate and beautiful act?

During his time in Portland, Haeg will investigate our region, studying species now resident in Reed canyon (part of the Johnson Creek Watershed), the Tualatin Valley, the Fanno Creek Watershed, and numerous other habitats. He will install animal dwellings in situ, and place related documentation and research material in the Cooley Gallery.

The exhibition suddenly also includes artwork by Frank Heath, Marc Joseph, Michael Damm, and Zoe Crosher, and a collection of rare maps from a local private collection. Following Reed it travels to the Pomona College Museum of Art and venues in San Francisco and Paris. There will also be a publication emanating from the exhibition that explores the environment of the Zwischenstadt or “in-between” city. Portland author Matthew Stadler and I conceived the project several years ago; Stadler is editing a definitive reader on the subject and organizing a symposium in Portland in early October. (The reader also serves as the exhibition catalog and will be available through the Cooley Gallery.)

As articulated by German historian Thomas Sieverts, the Zwischenstadt is a continuous field of human development that collapses areas of once-solid polarities (such as city and suburb, town and country) by standing “in-between” these poles. The animals that Haeg is investigating, through suddenly and his earlier work at the Whitney, have all been forced to adapt within the multiplicity of spaces that constitute the Zwischenstadt. Each of Haeg’s projects broadens these considerations on a global level.

Part of the exhibition

suddenly

  • Douglas F. Cooley
  • Memorial Art Gallery, Reed College
  • August 26–October 5, 2008
  • Pomona College Museum of Art
  • January 24–April 27, 2009

Curated by Stephanie Snyder, John and Anne Hauberg Director and Curator, Douglas F. Cooley Memorial Art Gallery, Reed College

Not surprisingly, the Whitney Biennial opening was a tony affair—beaded cocktail dresses dangling above sculpted thighs, fashionable suits, oyster-shell smiles, and lots of chitchat. Myself a Portlander, not to mention a Reed College fashion victim, I wore jeans, which, thankfully, became a conversation-starter. It was strange—the presence of power, money, and influence obscuring the artwork like a fog. And yet, there was a liberating transparency to the experience—the inner workings of the contemporary art world were all right there, on display; I could almost feel the species hierarchies discussed in Haeg’s work bleeding into an inter-human paradigm. It felt like standing on earth’s moon and studying the home planet through a telescope.

reed magazine logoSummer 2008