A crowd of more than 10,000 people gathered on Crane Beach in Ipswich, Massachusetts to attend not a rock concert but rather the preview “display” of a museum exhibition – the Strandbeests.
This is the first major exhibition in which Strandbeests have been displayed in the United States, but the creations already have a massive following.
Strandbeests are the brainchildren of Dutch artist Theo Jansen. Each Strandbeest is a horse-sized apparatus constructed from zip ties, clear packing tape and ivory-colored PVC tubes. In building these structures, Jansen combines these materials and creates a wind-powered “beach animal” that walks along the ground. Each creation resembles that of a dinosaur skeleton that has come to life.
Thanks to YouTube, the kinetic sculptures have gained a large, devoted international following. Some of those fans can see the Strandbeests up close at the Peabody Essex Museum in Salem, Massachusetts, which will house the exhibit. The turnout for today’s preview appearance simply astonished museum officials. Not only were there 10,000 people surrounding the exhibit on the beach, there were also fans in boats getting a glimpse and drones buzzing by taking photographs.
As fans gazed at the creatures in awe, something exciting happened. With a gust of wind, one of the beests began moving as its sail propelled it forward. At first wobbly, it soon picked up some speed, began walking and amazed the crowd.
Trevor Smith, the exhibition’s curator stated that, “You feel empathy toward it. The videos embody this dream of perpetual motion, but the beests themselves are temperamental. They require care. There’s a sense of fragility that deepens your appreciation of the creative process, and you see the drive and follow-through required to make a dream a reality.”
The large museum acknowledges that hosting the exhibit is quite the coup. Smith, whose official title is “curator of the present tense” proffers that, “The culture of our time is too important and impacts us in too many ways to reduce it to a genre of ‘contemporary art.’ That term still conjures up this idea of exclusivity that is counterproductive, if what we want is to get people to think about the role of creativity in their own lives.”
Jansen’s work combines old-fashioned mechanics with art and cutting-edge engineering. Smith points out that Jansen has wanted to bring the beests to America for a very long time, “but he wanted to bring them in a way in which people could engage with the complexities of the work.”
In describing today’s display, Strandbeest fan, Ayfer Ali, exclaimed that, “It’s a different form of life!”
The exhibit will open at the Peabody Essex on September 19th and will involve four active beests. The museum’s staff acknowledges that it will be somewhat of a challenge. Francesca Williams, the museum’s registrar of exhibitions states that the active creatures are the primary attraction and that the exhibit is “as much a performance as an exhibition because the end result changes every time.”