Animals capture our imagination and play a vital role in culture. Exotic species conjure thoughts of an untamed wilderness, while other, more familiar ones raise comforting memories of security and domestic space. For millennia, humans have turned to animals to construct social meaning, appropriating their forms and habits to narrate cultural phenomena or allegorize our relationships with the natural world. The beasts of Aesop’s Fables lent clarity to the human condition, and in countless other works we have come to know ourselves through the actions of animals.
And yet, the clarifying perspectives once offered by animal avatars seem less prevalent in the context of modernization. Animals appear to have lost some of their former magic and no longer serve as a symbolic bridge to nature or social truth. Species today function as objects of distant contemplation, suitable for scientific classification and study, but are otherwise subject to public apathy. As we destroy valuable habitats to build new structures, we enjoy fewer interactions with animals and allow changes to their livelihood to pass unnoticed.
Wendy Klemperer: Wrought Taxonomies explores these new and trying circumstances. It interrogates what connections are lost and formed with animals under industry’s shadow. Klemperer’s art responds to our cultural distance from nature and seeks to repair it by curating approximate encounters with nonhuman life. Her sculptures, drawings, and silhouettes surprise us with their vitality, each work possessing qualities of movement and purpose that oppose the dispassionate approach to nature privileged in contemporary society. At the same time, her graphic use of line poetically conveys a sense of absence—her forms are a haunting presence in the landscape.
To experience her work is to engage in an indirect but significant encounter with our distant cousins who have been overlooked. It revives an older art of thinking through animals to understand ourselves as we are torn between our past and future.
Wrought Taxonomies is the first outdoor sculpture exhibition at the Suffolk County Vanderbilt Museum and its second exhibition of contemporary art. Its collected works are on long-term loan from the artist and various arts organizations around the United States.
Special thanks are due to the Suffolk County Vanderbilt Museum’s contributing sponsors, including the Robert David Lion Gardiner Foundation, for their generous support in making Wrought Taxonomies possible.
About Wendy Klemperer
Born in Boston, Massachusetts, Wendy Klemperer is an American artist whose work explores the continuity between human and animal worlds. Using salvaged steel, wrought iron, and other found metals, she creates evocative compositions of animal bodies in the landscape, capturing their poses, interactions, and gestures with unique sensitivity to their cognitive processes. Her practice is informed by careful observations of the nonhuman, echoing and subverting the natural-scientific procedures used to reinforce the constructed divide between us and the remainder of the animal kingdom.
Klemperer received a B.A. in biochemistry from Harvard University and a BFA in sculpture and painting from the Pratt Institute. She has exhibited internationally and has attended several prestigious residencies at the Skowhegan School, MacDowell Colony, Ucross Foundation, Sculpture Space, and Denali National Park.
Her sculpture is permanently installed in over twenty states and can be found in the collections of the National Museum of Wildlife Art, Coastal Maine Botanical Gardens, the Vermont Institute of Natural Science, the Pratt Institute Sculpture Park, and the Andalusia Foundation.