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Nassau County Museum exhibits have animal magnetism

Hunt Slonem's "Bunny Wall" is on display in

Hunt Slonem's "Bunny Wall" is on display in the exhibit "Hunt Slonem: Eden Never Ends" at Nassau County Museum of Art. Credit: Hunt Slonem

“Rabbit, rabbit!” That is what the superstitious among us blurt out on the first day of each month. But renowned neo-expressionist Hunt Slonem has taken the luck-bringing phrase a step — make that a leap — further. Each time he enters his studio he paints a bunny, and another bunny and another. He paints them in yellow, in blue, lavender and green, large and little, alone and in colonies, an exercise he describes as his spiritual mantra.

Now with a stroke of their own fortune, visitors to the Nassau County Museum of Art can fall down the artist’s enchanting rabbit hole in the exhibition “Hunt Slonem: Eden Never Ends.” Along with bunnies, viewers encounter a menagerie of creatures — exotic birds, butterflies, monkeys, and frogs — populating gold antique frames, and even fabric and wallpaper by Bethpage-based fine furnishings company Kravet. (An Empire sofa upholstered in colorful, eye-popping parrots and positioned in front of one animal canvas-covered wall provides gallery-goers with the perfect “selfie” perch.)

The richly layered art objects echo the topography of Slonem’s 35,000-square-foot Brooklyn studio/sanctuary, where live fauna and flora coexist with the artist’s painted and sculpted ones. They also echo the wide range of species represented in “Wild Kingdom: 100 Years of Animal Art,” an exhibition running concurrently at the Roslyn Harbor museum.

The two shows, and how they interrelate, speak to an increased awareness of the codependence of all living things, says Franklin Hill Perrell, who organized both exhibitions with guest co-curator Debbie Wells. “The paintings also have to live together and dialogues develop.”

As an example, Perrell compares a butterfly screen print by Andy Warhol, among about 100 works comprising “Wild Kingdom,” with Slonem’s oil renderings of the same subject. Along with their friendship, he notes, the two artists also shared a strong interest in graphic imagery, glamour and pop icons. “While both impact by repetition,” he says, “Slonem’s work is much more personal and more textured in its execution. His animals have individual characteristics, while Warhol’s are flatter and more uniform.”

Along with other big-name artists — Pablo Picasso, Marc Chagall, Jeff Koons, Salvador Dali, Niki de Saint Phalle and Judith Leiber, to name a few — the show offers up a parade of pets and beasts by Long Island talents. Christian White exhibits “Zebras in Ngorongoro,” a study for his Bronx Zoo mural, while Parrish artist-in-residence Bastienne Schmidt contributes a dreamlike chromogenic print of fish at an aquarium. Susan Cushing’s ”Where the Wild Things Are” depicts a poolside cocktail party attended by human-bodied guests who don animal heads. “The painting shows how we infuse humans with animal identities,” notes Wells, whose show favorite is a sheep cleverly made from scissors, wool, zip ties and large knitting needles by Colombian artist Federico Uribe.

“People see something familiar in animals,” Perrell agrees. “They have feathers, tails, beaks, horns and claws, yet we attribute them with our own traits.”
 

WHAT "Hunt Slonem: Eden Never Ends" and "Wild Kingdom: 100 Years of Animal Art"

WHEN | WHERE 11 a.m.-4:45 p.m. Tuesday-Sunday, through March 3, Nassau County Museum of Art, 1 Museum Dr., Roslyn Harbor

INFO $12, $5 ages 62 and older, $4 students and ages 4-12, free younger than 4; 516-484-9338, nassaumuseum.org

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