Think you've seen about everything? Try paintings by elephants that sell for thousands of dollars
May 31, 2007
It started off as somewhat of a joke -- in 1997, elephant expert Richard Lair teamed up with conceptual artists Vitaly Komar and Alex Melamid to start an elephant art academy. They would teach retired elephants to paint -- something that others had tried with success in the past -- and the resulting artwork would raise money and awareness of the plight of Asian elephants, whose numbers are declining at an alarming rate.
Now, the Asian Elephant Art & Conservation Project, a charity organization based in New York City, founded by Komar and Melamid, has created an international market for elephant art, and auctioned elephant paintings at Christie's. The most expensive painting, by Ruby, a female elephant at the Phoenix Zoo, in Arizona, sold for $25,000. The paintings are decidedly abstract. Some, such as those by nine year old Gongkam, resemble everyday objects, mostly flowers. For those paintings, teachers give the elephants guidance, telling them where to start a line or hit the canvas with the paint brush they hold with their trunk. For other paintings, elephants can let their creativity flow. They produce pieces such as those by 23-year old Sela, which have been compared to the work of abstract expressionists such as Willem de Kooning and Jackson Pollock. Understandably, some critics have argued that elephant paintings represent no more than random shapes and colors. With any type of creative endeavor, it is a matter of taste. The same holds true for elephants' music. You might be mesmerized by the sparse clattering sound of six giants banging on oversized drums, xylophones, and thundersheets. Or you might find it annoying.