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Animals Invade the MFA

Paper Zoo exhibition fun for whole family


Spend an afternoon seeing how artists have depicted birds and beasts over the last 500 years in the Paper Zoo exhibition currently on view at the Museum of Fine Arts. From cats to elephants to flamingos, the three dozen pieces of art assembled here present the animal kingdom in fascinating and beautiful ways.

For centuries, artists have captured the world’s animals through a range of mediums and interpretations. Works by artists of vastly different periods and temperaments, among them Rembrandt, Audubon, and Picasso, convey the interesting relationship of artist to animal.

A message from Clifford Ackley, the MFA’s Ruth and Carl J. Shapiro Curator of Prints and Drawings, explaining the fun, yet refined, purpose of Paper Zoo welcomes visitors to the gallery.

“The selection is a playful one, intended to appeal to viewers of all ages,” it reads. “But it also seeks to tell us a good deal about how the artists’ personal vision, period style, or choice of materials inevitably transform the appearance of the creatures represented.”

The Toad by Pablo Picasso at Paper Zoo exhibition, Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, MA

Pablo Picasso’s The Toad, 1949.

The exhibition’s drawings, prints, and photographs emphasize the unique approach of each artist in portraying the same members of the animal kingdom. Picasso’s illustration of a toad is whimsical, while Leonard Baskin’s woodcut print of a porcupine is sharp and simple. Faces of angry lions and wild horses stare at visitors as they roam the collection, which includes pieces that date back to the 16th century.

The exhibition is a refreshing escape for children and adults alike on a hot summer afternoon. The museum is not only air-conditioned, but has several dining options, and best of all, the Paper Zoo doesn’t have that unmistakable zoo smell. Picasso simply asks that you please don’t feed the animals.

Paper Zoo is on display at the Museum of Fine Arts, 465 Huntington Ave., Boston, until Sunday, August 19. The museum is open Monday, Tuesday, Saturday, and Sunday from 10 a.m. to 4:45 p.m., and Wednesday through Friday from 10 a.m. to 9:45 p.m. Admission is free with BU ID, $20 without student ID, and $22 for adults; free to the public on Wednesday evenings. By public transportation, take the Green Line E trolley or the number 39 bus to the Museum of Fine Arts stop or the Orange Line train or bus routes 8, 47, or C2 to the Ruggles stop.

Check out our things to do list on Foursquare for tips on other fun activities and events around the Boston area.

Tom Vellner can be reached at tvellner@bu.edu.

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