Some, like the Tasmanian tiger, are considered extinct, yet sightings are still reported. Some, like the giant squid, existed only as rumors until hard evidence finally appeared. And roaming a shadowy habitat between myth, hucksterism and science are still others -- for example, Bigfoot and the Loch Ness Monster. Such creatures are the subjects of cryptozoology, the study of unknown, rumored or hidden animals. This summer, in the major exhibition "Cryptozoology: Out of Time Place Scale," the Bates College Museum of Art presents 16 artists in a wide-ranging examination of a field enjoying an increasingly high profile in pop culture.
The exhibition is curated by Bates museum director Mark H.C. Bessire and Raechell Smith, director of the H&R Block Artspace at the Kansas City Art Institute, where it opens in late October.
"It really has been an artist-driven project," says Bessire, as the curators became aware of the number of well-known artists making work that crossed the borders between environmental science, pop culture and cryptozoology itself.
"Then, underneath those big ideas were ideas that, I think, are very interesting in terms of contemporary life ó myth, spectacle, fraud," Bessire says. "Those three topics also turn up within the guise of cryptozoology. Those are fruitful areas for artists, and the work in this show opens up a conversation for all of these topics."
Artworks in the exhibition run a gamut of gamuts in terms of media, themes and perspectives. They include dioramas, taxidermy and performative photo series, along with more conventional media. The 16 artists include:
Mark Dion, whose hallway installation will help organize the exhibition space. The hallway's departmental doors, Bessire writes in an essay for the show, "evoke the timeless institutional feel of a government agency, a historical college (like Bates College) or a museum. . . . Dion offers an entry to the exhibition through the Federal Wildlife Commissionís Department of Cryptozoology, Bureau for the Investigation of Paranormal Phenomena and National Institute of Comparative Astrobiology";
Rachel Berwick, who made three-dimensional models of a Tasmanian tiger derived from film taken in the 1920s of the last known living specimen. Also known as a thylacine, the Tasmanian tiger -- a kind of marsupial dog -- is the exhibition's mascot;
Joan Fontcubera, who creates thoroughly detailed and convincing "natural history" exhibits about animals that have never existed;
Ellen Lesperance and Jeanine Oleson, who appear in a cycle of photographs depicting a relationship between Bigfoot and a woman in the wilderness;
Jeffrey Vallance, whose so-called mini-museum is really more like a Victorian-era curio cabinet, but an ironic one devoted in part to the thylacine and in part to a folkloric wild man;
Sarina Brewer and Robert Marbury of the Minnesota Association of Rogue Taxidermists;
And Jamie Wyeth, who shows images of a beast designed for the Stephen King television series "Kingdom Hospital." Completing the roster of "Cryptozoology" artists are Walmor Correa, Sean Foley, Jill Miller, Vic Muniz, Rosamond Purcell, Alexis Rockman and Marc Swanson.
Even as Bessire and Smith were developing the exhibition over the past few years, artists and ideas that inspired them were coming to light independently through science, mainstream culture and the art press. "Cryptozoology moved from the margins of ForteanTimes and the 'Cryptozoo Crew' and 'Swamp Thing' comics to the pages of National Geographic and The New Yorker, and to films like 'Jurassic Park,' the Harry Potter series and 'The Chronicles of Narnia,' " says Bessire.
The exhibition is presented in conjunction with a film series (schedule to be determined) and a major publication that includes essays by exhibiting artists, Bates anthropologist Loring Danforth and Maine's own Loren Coleman, who is considered the leading American cryptozoologist and who founded the Cryptozoology Museum in Portland where he lives.
After Bates, "Cryptozoology: Out of Time Place Scale" travels to the Block Artspace, where it will be shown from Oct. 27 until Dec. 20.