Arrival of the Animals at the Clark

Arrival of the Animals

Lin May Saeed

Clark Museum of Art (Lunder Center at Stone Hill)

Williamstown MA

Through October 25, 2020

(Click on images for larger views)


The Clark Museum of Art is open once again for visitors. (Call ahead for tickets unless you are a member. Midweek is a good time to go.)


A small but powerful current exhibit is on display at the Clark’s satellite Lunder Center at Stone Hill, a pleasant hilltop setting with lovely views of the Berkshires. The bucolic surroundings are perfect for Arrival of the Animals from multimedia artist Lin May Saeed. She is a German artist of Jewish and Iraqi descent whose exhibits have mainly been shown in Europe. Her provocative work deserves wider recognition in North America.


Allow me to drop two quotes from the Clark’s website that I think are a bit deceptive out of context. The first concerns the assertion that Saeed’s work is about “animal subjugation, liberation, and cohabitation with humans.” Yes and no. Her horror at subjugation is certainly obvious, but hers is not a mushy liberalism that envisions kind-hearted liberation at the hands of human masters. One of the more poignant images is a drawing of an ungulate staring at an array of goods made from leather hides. When we see animals liberated, it is either by their own efforts–a bull that has trampled a matador or an all-out war against humankind–or through cooperation with other animals.


Saeed even engages in some reverse mythmaking, such as a primate counterpoint to the story of St. Jerome and the lion. We see, for instance, a not-quite-human figure on an iron gate helping a lion, and then a drawing of a simian assisting a donkey.


The website also speaks of Saeed’s use of a “new iconography of interspecies iconography.” Again, this needs more illumination. The most powerful message that comes through is that animals can get along just fine without the guidance or care of homo sapiens. We see a panel titled “Panther Relief” amidst what we realize–even before the panel informs us– is “the remains of a Persian Gulf megacity,” one that also has elements of a “posthuman world” representing several periods of history. Ultimately, this is a double pun. The panther is in repose, but is also relieved to be living in the post-Anthropocene era. We see another relief of two large cats at ease amidst lotuses. The Arabic quotation is directed more at Ms. Saeed’s multiple identities, but irony lies in the title “Lion School,” one distinctly lacking human pupils.


Saeed works in brass, paper, canvas, paper, and Styrofoam. The last is also shot through with meaning. It is material such as Styrofoam that will contribute mightily should humankind perish. It is a worthless petroleum-based junk that is made solely because it is cheaper than eco-friendly alternatives. It does not biodegrade well and fragments of it are everywhere, including in our water sources. One might call it a lightweight monument to human arrogance. It is thus fitting that Saeed repurposes it to make bas relief, and to fashion it into animals such as a cow or pangolin.


Saeed offers both a powerful message and an equally powerful warning. We are eased into the exhibit

with drawings that explore human/animal relations, including Albrecht Dürer’s fame

d woodcut of St. Jerome at work in his study, while the lion whose thorn he removed sleeps at his feet. If only it were this simple. We also see Hercules wresting with a lion in a woodcut from Niccolò Boldrini. It and others remind us that liberation and subjugation are at odds an

d that, thus far, the latter has gotten the upper hand.


Can anything save us? Perhaps creative vision. Let’s focus on just one image from Lines from Life, an exhibit of French drawings on display downstairs in the Clark’s main building through December 13. It is Eugène Delacroix’s study for his 1798 canvas “Battle of Poitiers.” Look at the sketch and then the painting. Marvel of how we get from A to B. The painting is ultimately a war scene involving bloodshed and destruction. I prefer to contemplate the good to which such vision could be put to use.

Rob Weir


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