back to blog

“These are not animals”

Venice, Verona, Europe, Terra Antiqua and so on.

Titles, the titles of the sculptures on exhibit, sculptures that we know “are not animals”.

Yet when we tell our friends about what we experienced today we will say that there are animals on exhibit. Or, at least animal sculptures. When we look at the exhibited works of art we can simply admit to ourselves that these are indeed animals.

A lion, a bull, a rhinoceros, a lobster, a horse and others.

But we also have to admit to ourselves that they are not quite animals, because this is not what these animals look like. No matter which zoo we happen to visit around the world, we would never see such lions or bulls. Not to even mention the centaur and the unicorn.

Yet there is no other way to approach these sculptures than recognising their undeniable belonging to the animal world. The world that is much more ancient than the human world. The Lord created animals before man, it is not too difficult to imagine that mankind will be the last being on Earth at the end of time. Animals were here before us and they will be after us.

What is beautiful, what is exciting in the animal world? Most of all that animals resemble mankind and represent the endless diversity of nature at the same time. Just think about it: the human race is uniform. We all belong to the same race, from Eskimos to Bushmen or from the Amazon Indians to the Tibetan hermits. Species capable of reproducing irrespective of body build or skin colour. At the same time, we have been projecting our human traits onto the animal world ever since the most ancient times.

This makes us loyal dogs, cunning foxes, sly and wise snakes, lazy sloths or pigs, rats and maggots if we happen to look at our bad side and, of course, we are also generous lions, vain peacocks or silly donkeys. We discover one of our human characteristics in every animal, and we would never think whether we could cross a lion and a sloth, whether we would manage to create a lazy and generous animal.

We project our qualities onto animals and we too would like to have some animal qualities. Be as strong as a bull, as sharp-sighted as an eagle or as fearsome as a lion. It is no mere coincidence that animals are symbols as well. Nations find their origins in strong and large animals, bears, eagles or lions on the coat of arms of kings and countries symbolise the power of the people and the ruler and I doubt that there was ever a king in ancient times that would have viewed himself as the king of flees, grasshoppers or voles when he may just as well have been the symbolic descendant of elephants, eagles or tigers.

And we haven’t even mentioned mystical creatures like the unicorn or the centaur. They only exist in our imagination, but so powerfully that it may even override our day-to-day experiences. Who would dare to deny that imagination is not reality?

The anatomy of animals is the point of departure of the sculptures by Ágnes Nagy; however, the final product is not the portrayal of an animal of anatomic purity and precision, but a sculpture that is simultaneously capable of conveying the recognisable characteristics of the animal and the spiritual, cultural or historical experiences associated with the given animal with a sprinkle of humour. The pipes and pistons protruding in every direction, the mighty body of the hog bearing resemblance to a machine is actually like a motorcycle, a chopper. This is not a sculpture of a hog, but the “Easy Rider” feeling as the title of the sculpture suggests.

There is cheerfulness, humour and courage in these sculptures, as well as in their production, material use, surface finishing and even in the choice of theme. Whilst we come across the sculptures of horses, lions and bulls everywhere, but who has ever seen a sculpture of a lobster? But it is the wonderful anatomy of this graceful creature that naturally makes it worthy of commemoration. What we see here is an extremely exciting and almost never exploited sculpture form, an ingenious and boldly conceived work of art. And it bears the title Verona. A gentle, distant and personal reference to the main course of a dinner in Verona, the lobster.

The unicorn sculpture has a surface covered with old maps. Terra Antiqua, as the title of the sculpture suggests, in other words ancient land, an almost unknown place littered with secrets and mysteries and, of course, the history of the landscapes portrayed. It is a mysterious and imaginary world, just like the unicorn.

And of course here is the most peculiar creature, the centaur. It represents duality, the wonder of incongruency, which did not want to be come to life owing to mere chance and fate. The torso of the figure happened to explode during the burning process. There was no time to remould it, or rather rebuild it; however, a 3D print of it was made based on the photos, which was added to the lower part of the body. A real hybrid work of art was thus created. Hybrid, just like the centaur, but perhaps I won’t spill the beans by telling you that it will not stay like this.

These are not animals, but cities, continents, imaginary places that have disappeared, cultures and stories portrayed in the image of animals. Venice and Verona, Europe and Terra Antiqua. Everything we love, that is ours, where we yearn to be and a world full of secrets and stories we are capable of experiencing and imagining over and over again.

One more important thing. These sculptures are great to live with. They remind us of ourselves, talk to us and we feel their lively beat when we stroke them.

Gábor Bellák chief museologist, art historian, Hungarian National Gallery
back to blog