Animality review – a cacophonous gathering of art's jungle VIPs

By Adrian Searle

Marian Goodman Gallery, London
A pink octopus, an albino camel, a bronze slug … a menagerie of curious creatures slyly evoke the mysteries of the animal kingdom

Bird song, or something like it, fills the air. “Art! Art! Aaaartschwager! Beuys. Beuys. Schnaaaabel!” The names of big-time boy artists, screeched and cackled by Louise Lawler in her 1972-81 sound-work Birdcalls, greet visitors to Animality, a funny and thoughtful exhibition about our relationship with the animal kingdom. “Gilbert & George, Gilbert & George! Polke Polke Polke! Richter, Richter!” screech the birds. Over our heads, on a branch, a stuffed magpie spreads its wings.

To cancel out the creature's bad luck, I was always told you should greet the first magpie of the day with a polite good morning. This one, by Cerith Wyn Evans, is called Please Pay Attention Motherfucker. I give it the bird. Nearby, in Elmgreen and Dragset‘s Dawn, Fig 2, a pure-white bronze boy in his underpants looks down. He only has eyes for the white slug at his feet. What does this reverie entail? The boy looks at the slug and the slug does its slug thing. Both are bronze, but the relation between slugs and boys is complex. What do they share? Is the boy asking himself if that is what he is made of, looking back down the evolutionary slope? Is it an inexplicable moment of wonder, or does the boy want to know what a slug would look like if he squished it? A slug cannot acknowledge a boy, so far as we can tell, and is perhaps unaware of its own, let alone the boy's sentience.

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