Sunday, June 26, 2005


Monkey See, Monkey Poo

In a brief piece about the art sale of paintings by a chimp, the New York Times amazingly missed every interesting aspect of the story. It's not just some chimp throwing paint around who attracted more auction interest than works by Warhol and Renoir, it's that the chimp in question -- named Congo, who died in 1964 of TB after creating over 400 paintings -- was in fact part of a debate by behaviorist and science writer Desmond Morris on animal cognition and the ability of apes to understand artistic creation. Morris regularly featured him on his Zoo Time tv program.

Fortunately, the British press has been covering this wonderfully odd story in greater detail -- though I will admit that nothing quite tops the pure idiotic genius of the CBS headline Dead Chimp's Art Sells Big. But back to the other side of the Atlantic, where the Times of London reports:

Dr Morris said that Congo was unusual because he was the only non-human painter who took care over his art. He said: “With other animals there was an element of accident in their work. Congo was desperately trying to avoid accident. If you tried to interrupt him he would have a temper tantrum. If you tried to get him to continue after he had finished he wouldn’t do it. I would offer him a brush and he would just look at me. In the end he got too strong. He had a very powerful bite.

Jeez. Next thing you know, he'll be getting himself an agent.

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