SEATTLE, WA.- The Frye Art Museum
is presenting Human Nature, Animal Culture: Selections from the Frye Art Museum Collection (on view June 12, 2021August 21, 2022), an exhibition featuring a focused selection of 34 works from the permanent collection as well as archival photographs and ephemera from the Frye & Company meatpacking operation.
Beyond appearing as subjects in many of the paintings collected by the museums founders, Charles and Emma Frye, domesticated animals were critical to the formation of the museum itself: Charles Frye, raised on an Iowa farm before moving to Seattle in 1888, built a successful meatpacking business, which in turn provided him the means to begin collecting art. This exhibition, guest curated by art historian Kathleen Chapman, prompts a deeper consideration of the various forms of labor domesticated animals perform and their significance as deeply engrained elements of human society.
The many paintings of animalsparticularly domesticated animalsin the Frye Art Museums collection offer a unique opportunity to examine human-animal interactions during the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries in parts of Europe and the United States. Paintings of animals became especially popular during the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, when spreading industrialization and population shifts from rural to urban settings reduced opportunities for close contact with animals. People increasingly engaged with animals in mediated waysby means of images. Then, as now, paintings become a realm where relationships with animals are negotiated and take shape beyond the confines of language and demands of reason. Reconsidering our long, often fraught, relationships with domesticated animals reminds us that humans are closer to animals and animals far closer to culture than we often care to think.
Reason, science, and culture supposedly elevate humans above nature, yet many of our species greatest achievements would not have been possible without animals. They have nourished our bodies, carried our belongings, and become our closest companions, helping humans to create society, culture, and the arts as we know them. But too often we take animals for granted. Now, as we confront climate change, humankind is forced to re-examine how we affect animals and the natural world. While we turn to science for solutions to address this crisis, we can look to art to understand our past, present, and future relationships with our fellow creatures.
The exhibition is accompanied by a free full-color brochure with curatorial essay and fold-out poster, also available for download on the Museums website.