Animality review – perfectly beastly

By Laura Cumming

Marian Goodman Gallery, London
Animals have to be removed from their natural habitat to be taken seriously as art, as this fascinating zoo of a show demonstrates

Anyone who wants to know what cuts it in contemporary art – and what doesn't – should look no further than animals. Beasts are a perfect case in point. The mere depiction of a tiger, say, faithfully observed in all its striped stealth, or burning brightly in some lyrical vision, might play in the shires but it won't get an artist into a high-end, scene-changing gallery such as Marian Goodman. There has to be something more.

The tiger that opens this museum-class show, for instance, looks like a giant wildlife photograph – the glowering face magnified to billboard height. Yet there is a strangely human inflection to the jaw and whiskers, and the head-on confrontation feels eerily personal. The image is black and white, but the contrasts exceed reality, and indeed this is not a photo but a spectacular charcoal drawing. The US artist Robert Longo specialises in these super-real feats that shift the terms of exchange. The predator, here, turns dictator.

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