In recent years, dead animals have been everywhere in art: David Shrigley’s taxidermy cat, Adel Abdessemed’s various grotesqueries, Damien Hirst’s butchered menagerie. Lately, though, live beasts have been mounting a comeback, thanks in large part to artist Darren Bader. He deposited a goat at Andrew Kreps last year, cats and an iguana at his MoMA PS1 show that opened in January: good, adorable sculptures.
Now the Norwegian artist Bjarne Melgaard has raised the bar. On Friday, there were two young white tigers lounging in a metal pen at Ramiken Crucible gallery on the Lower East Side, where Mr. Melgaard has organized a group show with the curious title “Ideal Pole.” The animals are there to serve as model for collars and capes by the Brooklyn–based designer Ms. Fitz. (Click here for an interview with Ms. Fitz and photographs of the collars.)
The show has a number of eye-catching aspects—brightly colored walls, fancy adult diapers, Richard Kern photos (a topless model who poses with needles, a condom and a substance that appears to be semen)—but it’s the five-and-and-half-month-old tigers, named Sonia and Tanya, that seemed to garner the most attention from visitors when we stopped by on Saturday afternoon.
Even when they’re calm, they’re a fairly intimidating pair. Sure, they’re young and enclosed within metal fencing—which can’t be said of the coyote that lived with Joseph Beuys during his trailblazing animal-art piece, I Like America and America Like Me (1974), but they gave us a good, strong look when we entered the gallery that implied we weren’t supposed to get too close. (The gallery has prohibited children from visiting.)
The pair reclined on the lilac-colored floor not far from Lee Huntsman, of Massilon, Ohio’s Stump Hill Farm, which provided the tigers for the artist-curator. He was relaxing on a sofa, carefully eyeing the tigers and answering visitors’ questions. The farm apparently adopted them when there were about six weeks old and bottle-fed them. He’d made the trip to New York exclusively for Mr. Melgaard’s project.
“We rescue animals from all over,” Mr. Huntsman said. “If they have bad homes, we introduce them into something much better.” Art shows are a bit unusual for the tigers; TV appearances are a bit more common. (They recently met Betty White.)
“Ideal Pole” is billed as a three-part show. (Mr. Melgaard is known to be a bit unpredictable, though, so we’ll see.) Next he is planning a performance of some sort by Norwegian pop superstar Annie (of “Chewing Gum” fame) and another group show in the space. He’ll oversee a solo show of French fashion photographer Guy Bourdin’s work later in the summer. The tigers will be there through Sunday, June 3.