‘Frenemies’ Exhibit at The Fralin Museum of Art at U.Va. Explores Depictions of Animals

Are animals our friends or our enemies? Throughout history, artists have explored this question, enthralled by the beauty, power and strangeness of animals – and, at the same time, by their similarity to humans.

A new exhibition at The Fralin Museum of Art at the University of Virginia, “Frenemies: Animals in Art,” running through Aug. 4, explores how artists in various media and styles have depicted this profound connection. “Frenemies” presents numerous works from the museum’s collection by artists attempting to see humanity’s positive or negative traits reflected in animal behavior.

“Although humans have defined themselves through their ‘superiority’ to animals, we still admire and love them,” Stephen Margulies, volunteer curator of the exhibition, said. “But we often turn them into myth, allegory or even divinity.

“In Jacques Lipchitz’s ‘Theseus and the Minotaur,’ the Minotaur is part man and part bull, and is being killed by the hero Theseus, but the two are so entwined that you cannot part them,” he said.

Albrecht Dürer‘s “Saint Eustace,” in the exhibition, embodies a reverence for animals as emblems of the better aspects of humanity. “In Dürer’s engraving, the holiness of a saint restores us to the peace and harmony of Eden where people and animals lived lovingly together,” Margulies said.

Scientists have long studied animals and learned from their abilities. Many works in the “Frenemies” exhibit depict animals in scientific settings, while others have scientific underpinnings not visible at first glance.

“Dürer, along with Leonardo da Vinci, studied animal anatomy in order to enhance the accuracy of their depictions,” Margulies said. “In Dürer’s ‘Saint Eustace,’ the physical accuracy of the dogs, horse and stag enhances the sense of mystical transcendence.”

Along with Dürer and Lipchitz, several major artists from The Fralin Museum’s own collection are featured in the “Frenemies” exhibition, including Eugène Atget, Marc Chagall, Eugène Delacroix, Claude Lorrain, Pablo Picasso, Weegee and others from a variety of media.

The museum’s programming is made possible by the support of The Joseph and Robert Cornell Memorial Foundation. The “Frenemies” exhibition is made possible through the support of Arts$, Albemarle Magazine and Ivy Publications LLC’s Charlottesville Welcome Book.

In addition to the “Frenemies” exhibit, The Fralin Museum of Art’s summer programming includes “Ansel Adams: A Legacy,” Looking at the New West: Contemporary Landscape Photography and “From Alaska to the Mountain Peaks of Central Mexico: Depicting Native American Life in the Late Nineteenth Century.” Remaining on view this summer is “Becoming the Butterfly: Portraits of James McNeill Whistler.”

The museum, located at 155 Rugby Road, one block from the Rotunda, is open Tuesdays through Sundays from noon to 5 p.m. Admission is free.

Media Contact

Robert Hull

Media Relations Associate Office of University Communications