Oct 27, 2011

REVIEW | Animal Instinct: Photographs of Daniel Lee | The San Antonio Museum of Art | San Antonio, TX

Animal Instinct: The Photographs of Daniel Lee, curated by David S. Rubin, The Brown Foundation Curator of Contemporary Art, San Antonio Museum of Art, 2011-12
After wandering around a giant maze of ancient artifacts, Asian pottery and varied paintings for over an hour, I finally stumbled upon Daniel Lee's exhibit Animal Instinct tucked away in a small room next door to the gift shop of the San Antonio Museum of Art.  I witnessed pretty much every installation in the entire four-story, two-winged museum before finding the exhibit I most desired to see at the end.  I will admit that was my own stubborn fault for not asking for directions, so I can't really complain about the location.  However, I'm not sure the space of the room was used to its complete advantage.

The room that Animal Instinct was set up in was small with the seven installations making up the exhibit hung simply on the walls, leaving a large chunk of awkward open space in the center of the room next to the elevator.  Despite that minor flaw I noticed, David Rubin (curator for this exhibit) did a very clean job of presenting Lee's collection of digitally enhanced photographs.

Animal Instinct (at SAMA from September 3, 2011 until February 19, 2012) has been growing since 1993 up through 2010.  In the collection, Lee questions the relationship between animals and humans.  With imaginative photography and computer editing, he has created his own anthropomorphic creatures that explore just how closely we resemble certain animals.

"Animal Instincts: Photographs of Daniel Lee", San Antonio Museum of Art, 2011-2012
 When beginning the exhibit from the curator's statement, it was simple enough to flow from one picture to the next, since they are so neatly placed out on the walls.  The placement of pieces didn't seem to have any specific pattern, but I did enjoy the order because it gave variety throughout the entire room.  From where I started, I focused on Dreams (2008) first.  Inspired by a book of short stories, it was a photo of a man's face on the body of three dogs. Next to it was 108 Windows (1996-2005), which based off of Eastern Chinese traditions and Buddhist beliefs, showed 108 faces of Lee's creatures resembling humans, fairies, guardians, demons, hell prisoners, and animals.  The minimal colors used and tight focus on faces was a large transition from the vivid, full body shot of Dreams that gave a visual interesting contrast to the exhibit.

Following these two images was a five minute digital animation on continuous loop showing the evolution of man from a fish form, titled Origin (1999-2003).  The screen is a bit tucked away into a darkened corner of the room, but it definitely helps draw the viewer in and once you realize the minor transformations on the screen, you can't help but be compelled to stand and watch the entire five minutes in the secluded corner.

Daniel Lee, Origin, digital animation on continuous loop, 1999-2003
The exhibit continued with stunning portraits of Lee's animal-like humans and bizarre scenes.  After circling the entire room, the final piece to observe is one of my favorites, Nightlife (2001).  This one probably caught my attention most because I could best relate to the scene: different personalities all hanging out in one atmosphere to enjoy the night life.  Not only are the people eccentric themselves, but their animal counterparts really seem to show through in their stances and facial expressions.  I also enjoyed viewing this one last because it was a nice contrast to seeing Dreams first.  I'd started the exhibit seeing Lee's idea of a human face plainly replacing dogs' and get to end with a whole group of human's with animal like faces.

Daniel Lee, Nightlife, ink jet on vinyl, 2001

Overall I really enjoyed Lee's exhibition of Animal Instinct.  David Rubin did a wonderful job setting up the imagines in a way that gives the viewer variety that keeps them interested to see more.  It is a wonderful addition to SAMA's vast collection of artifacts and definitely gives the audience a different taste of art work.

-Julie Jakubek


  1. Is Lee trying to make a statement about evolution? Or just showing that humans aren't that far removed from animals ? Or is there no implication to be taken at all from the work, just art for arts sake?

    - Corinne Crowley