January 23 – June 27, 2010

Although still the “big dog” on the block, Tacoma Art Museum’s ten-foot-tall cardboard dog, Leroy, The Big Pup (created by Northwest artist Scott Fife) is no longer the only four-legged friend roaming the museum’s hallways. Tacoma Art Museum’s newest exhibition, The Secret Language of Animals, is family-friendly and devoted to our furry, feathery, and slimy friends. Installed in two galleries and the lobby space, animals greet visitors and offer art lovers an opportunity to reflect on their connections to and experiences with the animal kingdom.

Through paintings, sculptures, and videos, The Secret Language of Animals explores not only the role of animal imagery in art, but also our expectations of and emotional attachments to those animals.

“Artists help us better understand why animals are so important to us,” notes curator Rock Hushka. “By looking at various kinds of art, questions about our relationships to animals will arise. Why do we love our dogs and cats so much? How difficult is it to draw or sculpt a horse? What are those elusive qualities about birds that enchant us? The artists reveal how animals symbolize the diverse ways we humans interact in society.”

The works will be on view through June 27 and show a broad range of animal subjects including animals as pastoral backdrops, as the subjects of portraiture, as valued companions, and as symbols of both bounty and death.

Organized in sections by animal type, including dogs, horses, cows, cats, birds, elephants, and rodents, the exhibition features approximately 40 works that span more than 250 years, ranging from Jacques Charles Oudry’s Still Life (1720–1778) to Fred Muram’s 2008 video Sharing a Bowl of Fruit Loops with My Dog.

Works are drawn from Tacoma Art Museum’s collection, including important recent acquisitions such as Marvin Oliver’s Orca Fin,and from key loans that include three Deborah Butterfield horse sculptures as well as notable pieces by George Stubbs and Claude Monet. Collection highlights include works by James McNeill Whistler, Joan Brown, John Sloan, and Vanessa Renwick, as well as works by Northwest masters such as William Cumming, Morris Graves, and Joseph Goldberg. For this exhibition, Seattle artist Jeffry Mitchell has recreated The Pile of Elephants with the help of a team of Tacoma Art Museum volunteers.