New York Photo Review
NYPR Archives - 2010

Richard Barnes
Animal Logic
R. Wayne Parsons
Richard Barnes, “Single Ungulate and Man with Blue Crosses, San Francisco 2008”

There are so many good photographs in this exhibition that I hardly know where to start. The core of “Animal Logic” is a series of large color photos of various animals, none alive, in dioramas and similar display situations in natural history museums around the world. Typically such photos can be faulted as being of less interest than the dioramas themselves, thus undercutting the artistic justification for their existence. Barnes, however, avoids this problem by making his exposures in “unusual” situations; typically these are times when the dioramas are undergoing installation or modification, with results that are witty and revealing of ways of seeing and thinking that were not part of the original design. One of my favorite examples, “Man with Blue Crosses,” shows a man lying on his side on the floor of a diorama, facing away from us. My initial thought that this is a strange place to sleep is dispelled when a closer look reveals that he is in fact painting the background, not napping. He is accompanied by a plastic-wrapped “single ungulate” (looks like a gazelle or some such animal). The “Blue Crosses” are pieces of blue masking tape used to support a protective layer of clear plastic in the display. The result is eye-catching, humorous, and much more informative of life in a museum than a dusty diorama, or even a well-dusted one.

 by unidentified photographer.
Richard Barnes, “Horses with Horse Paintings, Cairo 2009”

Another stand-out piece is an orangutan (mislabeled “monkey” in the caption, but that’s OK, I’ll look at it anyway) in a large wooden box open on one side; in fact it is a shipping container, and the display is being prepared for shipment to an unspecified destination. The orangutan is shown doing what orangutans do, foraging for leaves to eat while swinging through a tree. The tree is strapped into the box, and the animal has a cummerbund-like support around its waist to prepare it for the rigors of travel. The result is a hoot, but also an instructive look into what goes on behind the scenes at these institutions.

But there’s more. Another series in “Animal Logic” consists of black-and-white photos of skulls of various animals, including H. sapiens, exploded into their component bones and elegantly mounted on old-fashioned display stands. The results, both of the exhibits themselves and the photographs, are aesthetically pleasing and educational illustrations of how these animals have the good fortune to be put together.

There’s still more. “Murmur” is a series of large black-and-white images of flocks of starlings in flight photographed near Rome. The herding instincts of these birds in flight create fascinating abstract patterns that catch your eye and hopefully make you more likely to attend to the next flock of birds that passes you by.

Lastly, there are four color photos from the artist’s “Refuge” series. These images are literally what the name implies: birds’ nests made from colorful pieces of detritus these resourceful creatures have gathered for their purposes. This series is seemingly an afterthought, as three are displayed in the off-limits storeroom and visible only through a doorway.

While most of the images in this exhibition can be found on the gallery website, they demand to be seen in person to be appreciated. And appreciate them you should!

Richard Barnes
Animal Logic

Foley Gallery
548 W 28th St. 2nd Fl
Chelsea         Map

212 244 9081

Thursday, April 29 to
Saturday, June 5, 2010
Hours: Tues - Sat, 12 to 6