The saurian Ankylosaurus in bold magenta and yellow with an exclamation mark above its head, indicating alarm

What $16,500,000 Buys You

Museums

Kenneth Griffin has been kind to the Field Museum. 2006 saw the opening of the Evolving Planet exhibit, created in part with a $5 million gift from Griffin and his wife, Anne. In 2016, the museum announced a gift of $5.5 million from the Kenneth C. Griffin Charitable Fund. That $5.5 million bought a lot – a traveling exhibition called Antarctic Dinosaurs as well as educational efforts for a global audience. A year later, the fund bested that gift by triple, ponying up $16.5 million to bring the Patagotitan now known as Maximo to Chicago.

This meant that Sue, the iconic and Twitter-savvy Tyrannosaurus rex who has occupied a prominent place near the museum’s north entrance for nearly two decades, would cede the Stanley Field Hall to the new kid in town, moving upstairs to their very own gallery in Evolving Planet. The $16.5 million would also provide for that new space.

Along with many lovers of the Field, I’ve been looking forward to the change. I’ve always loved visiting the museum upon the opening of a new exhibit. And, of course, part of the excitement is anticipating how paleoart will be incorporated.

Yesterday, the Field revealed the murals for Sue’s new home on social media.

Oof.

This museum is home to a huge collection of Charles Knight’s original paintings, some of the the most iconic paleoart ever created. With respect to the artist, who is capable of much better, this doesn’t live up to the standards of the Field. I’m not the only one who doesn’t think it quite measures up, judging by the Twitter replies. This hall should be a Sistine Chapel of paleoart!

Earlier this year, I shared a Brain Scoop episode testifying to the Field’s history of great paleoart. Here it is again. Emily Graslie and the Brain Scoop team did a great job bringing light to names you probably have not heard of.

Of course, opinions vary. Some of us like the “photobashing” aesthetic, and that’s fine. I personally think it’s extremely rare that an artist pulls off something that feels natural and immersive. But whatever. It’s not the whole story. That Ankylosaurus? It was lifted whole cloth from the Saurian team, including designer RJ Palmer and modeler Jacob Baardse. It’s also been noted that a Raul Martin azhdarchid (itself bearing a questionable pedigree) is also soaring up there in the sky.

I wouldn’t be surprised if more “borrowed” animals are spotted by the paleoart community. At least the Field is investigating, as indicated in this response to Baardse:

So, where will this museum go with this? My fingers are crossed that they’ll commission an accomplished paleo-muralist to do the job right. Surely, somewhere in that $16.5 million is fair compensation for an artist who can step up to the task and create something suitably engrossing and majestic.

Let’s hope that this incident helps spur change in the way institutions view and commission paleoart. Whatever happens, I’ll be sure to share more developments here.

<em>Edaphosaurus </em>photograph <a href="https://flic.kr/p/e5eXds">by Paul Hudson</a>, CC BY 2.0. Adapted to include text bubble and change to grayscale.
Edaphosaurus photograph by Paul Hudson, CC BY 2.0. Adapted to include text bubble and change to grayscale.

3 thoughts on “What $16,500,000 Buys You”

  1. That is not only truly shameful, it’s outright criminal! It’s not even a good photo manip – in what world is pond water the color of raspberry kool-aid?

    1. Thank you for that link! I was just saying on Twitter that the most charitable angle is that VS did an early comp and somehow the museum social media team shared it. But I don’t think that’s the case.

      Prus’s comments definitely point to some serious turmoil behind the scenes.

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