Danish Artist’s Baroque-Style Circus of Animals is Back in the U.S

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Drawing inspiration from a wide breadth of sources, including ancient mythology, fairy tales and fables, and the Italian Renaissance, Danish artist Bjørn Okholm Skaarup’s sculptures are steeped in historical tradition and informed by contemporary culture.

His nine-foot-tall mini-menagerie The Town Musicians of Bremen, inspired by Grimm’s beloved fairy tale which describes the journey of a ragtag fellowship of retired, domesticated animals—a donkey, dog, cat, and rooster—that unite to form an unlikely but irresistible band of musicians. Skaarup has animated the story characters in playful, textural detail, and there is a levity in the animals’ precarious postures that brings movement and musicality to the totemic assembly.

New works from Skaarup that have made their U.S. debut include his interpretation of The Four Seasons as personified trees, a reference to the dendromorphic shapes and characters found in Renaissance-era art including Leonardo’s frescoes, Arcimboldo’s paintings, and Bramante’s columns. A spring tree awakens from her winter dormancy, arms outstretched, face tilted toward the sun. Summer is laden with verdant blooms and forest fauna; Autumn seeks shelter from the rain, his leaf cover replaced by the fungal growth of the season change. Winter is bare and frail, guarding against the chill as an owl finds shelter within his hollow.

A New York City favorite, Hippo Ballerina graces the exhibition in a variety of dance positions. Dually inspired by Degas’ Little Dancer Aged Fourteen (1878–1881) and Disney’s Fantasia (1940), Skaarup’s 15-foot incarnation of the now-famous megaherbivore made her Manhattan debut in 2017 in Dante Park opposite Lincoln Center. From there, she entertained the public in the Flatiron District and outside the Girl Scouts of America’s New York headquarters before spending most of 2022 in Pershing Square near Grand Central Terminal. Her “little sisters” in bronze, wearing 19th-century leotards and tutus, will bring a familiar delight to gallery visitors. Hippo Ballerina is accompanied by a menagerie of circus friends, including Rhino HarlequinGiraffe Tall ClownElephant MagicianSea Lion JugglerBear Roller SkaterRacoon BoxerCrocodile Cymbalist, and the master of ceremonies himself, the Lion Tamer, who embodies the upended power dynamics of this all-animal carnival.

Currently, more than 25 of Skaarup’s sculptures are on display at Cavalier Gallery in New York City through next month.

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