Animals in Contemporary Art

Animals in Contemporary Art

  • Posted on: June 6, 2014
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Animals have always been popular subjects for artists to represent in their works, either as part of the environment or as primary subjects. The term animal painter was used up till 1900 for an artist who specializes in or is known for his/her skill in the portrayal of animals. During the last century “wildlife artist” became the preferred term for contemporary animal painters.

If we go back to the earliest drawings on the walls of caves, animals have been represented since ancient times as part of rituals and prey. Animal depiction has shifted schematically each century, in accordance with changing norms and increased wildlife awareness.

Explore how animals are seen from a contemporary standpoint this week in works made by ten contemporary artists.


Rat-King by Katharina Fritsch

12 feet high sculpture made of polyester and paint was exhibited in Fritsch’s first solo exhibition at the Dia Center for the Arts, New York in 1993.


Rat Graffiti by Banksy

Gangsta Rat was painted on plywood as part of the Biennial Festival of Contemporary Art in Liverpool, 2004.

Banksy’s Sewer Rat graffiti



Circle of animals/Zodiac Heads by Ai Weiwei

Ai Weiwei’s outdoor installation Circle of Animals/Zodiac Heads(2011) recreates the traditional Chinese zodiac sculptures which once adorned the fountain of Yuanming Yuan, an imperial retreat in Beijing.

Dragon Head

Cock Head

Horse Head

Dog Head

Bear Head

Rat Head

Snake Head

Ox Head

Boar Head


Sculptures of Paper Animals by Anna Wili-Highfield

A Sydney based artist, Highfield makes sculptures of animals created from archival cotton paper, that is painted, then sewn together, to create the figure of an animal.

Paper Panda

Paper Wolf

Paper Bird


Balloon Animals by Jeff Koons

12 foot tall Balloon dog made of stainless steel


‘Pixcell’ Deer by Kohei Nawa

Taxidermied animals have been revolutionized by Kohei Nawa’s use of variably sized “PixCell” beads, a term he invented. ‘Pix’ refers to “pixel” while ‘Cell’ retains its original meaning- creating a unique work of art.


Life size replicas of animals by Cai Guo-Qiang

99 Animals flock together around a Pool as part of an installation for Cai Guo-Qiang’s exhibition at the Gallery of Modern Art, Australia.

Head On, installation at Deutsche Guggenheim, 2006. Photo: Mathias Schormann.