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.

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11 Comments

  • Reply
    Viergacht
    December 8, 2018 at 3:51 pm

    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?

  • Reply
    Dino Dad Reviews
    December 10, 2018 at 1:30 am

    I wonder if the sudden rush to released has something to do with it? I recently saw a post on Twitter they were opening a few months early. And yet David M. Prus’s comments on the post I link to below seem to suggest they’re also running behind schedule at the same time, somehow.
    https://www.facebook.com/photo.php?fbid=880288332362060&set=gm.332457340907257&type=3&theater&ifg=1

    • Reply
      David Orr
      December 10, 2018 at 8:52 am

      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.

  • Reply
    I Know Dino: The Big Dinosaur Podcast | A site about dinosaurs | This Week in Dinosaur News: 3 new dinosaurs: An opalized ornithopod in Australia, a “long neck” from Brazil, and a titan from Russia
    December 21, 2018 at 12:50 pm

    […] The new Field Museum Mesozoic murals drew a lot of ire for copying paleoartists’ work without permission source […]

  • Reply
    Amy Acquafondata
    December 22, 2018 at 5:44 am

    The artist in question has been around a while and I think most of his work was in Pleistocene mammals. His style was mostly in traditional media, so I think dinosaurs and digital media were new to him. Also please remember that many artists use the same skeletal references, thus get similar results. Most people plagiarize not through conscious deceit, but rather some words or phrases get stuck in our heads and we forget to properly reference them. It is still careless and sloppy, and not acceptable, but not an intentional crime.

  • Reply
    TheSpinoRex
    January 30, 2019 at 12:34 pm

    This is really scummy of the “artist”.

  • Reply
    anonymous
    August 15, 2019 at 3:15 pm

    The worst part is, the artist continues to get commissions for murals at the Field Museum.

    • Reply
      David Orr
      August 15, 2019 at 3:47 pm

      Do you know if any changes to the offending mural have been made, or has the museum made any attempt to do right by the artists ripped off?

  • Reply
    I Know Dino Podcast Show Notes: Wuerhosaurus (Episode 212) - I Know Dino: The Big Dinosaur Podcast
    April 7, 2020 at 4:39 am

    […] The new Field Museum Mesozoic murals drew a lot of ire for copying paleoartists’ work without permission source […]

  • Reply
    Z. Mustafa Ahmed
    November 27, 2020 at 12:46 pm

    Well if its any consolidation, Ben of Extinct Monsters, who worked on the exhibit, has confirmed original artists were paid, and original artwork has replaced these plagiarised works. Observe the links below.
    https://extinctmonsters.net/2020/11/20/telling-sues-story-part-1/
    https://www.instagram.com/p/CDyl9hZj7B9/

    • Reply
      David Orr
      November 27, 2020 at 5:37 pm

      Yes, I had seen the instagram post and assumed it would be replacing the old art, but – understandably, I think – had not seen any acknowledgment from a museum employee until now. Thanks for bringing the post to my attention.

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