Insecta Fantasia @ Newark Museum!

Children’s Fantasy World Comes to Life in Insecta Fantasia

At The Newark Museum’s Ballantine House
A Centennial Commission by Jennifer Angus

Exhibition Runs from November 5, 2008 until June 14, 2009

A favorite hobby during the Victorian era was collecting, identifying and mounting insects. In a narrative told through children Alice and Percy Ballantine, insects overtake their imaginations and their bedrooms.

Insecta Fantasia, a unique site-specific installation at The Newark Museum by artist Jennifer Angus as a centennial commission, will be exhibited from November 5, 2008 until June 14, 2009 as part of the institution’s 100th anniversary to be celebrated throughout next year. The exhibition has been created with support from the Harpo Foundation.

Artist Jennifer Angus’ captivating and unique commission transforms Alice and Percy’s bedrooms in the museum’s national landmark Ballantine House into a highly imaginative two-gallery exhibition wherein insects become art, objects of interior design and collector displays. Using the children’s “own words,” Angus guides the visitor on a remarkable visual fantasy tour.

Several stories unfold in the exhibited diaries of Alice and Percy Ballantine. The visitor will be struck by the Victorian-inspired wallpaper revealing whimsical patterns of shimmering copper and metallic green tones created by Angus — not with strokes of oil or acrylic – but with the bodies of exotic insects pinned to the walls. More than 5,000 insects in all.

Percy’s room demonstrates the young boy’s obsession with travel, exploration and scientific discovery. Insects are meticulously pinned to walls, categorized and displayed in cases. Cicadas, katydids, leaf insects, walking sticks, grasshoppers and beetles are

displayed in every nook and cranny as Percy showcases his favorite pastime. Percy’s diary reveals his discoveries of insects during backyard adventures with his sister, Alice, and on world travels with his father.

In the adjoining room, Alice’s fantasy wonderland of insects is expressed in delicately placed patterns of insects mounted on storybook wallpaper throughout the elaborately decorated Victorian room. Alice’s diary discusses the stories The Frog Prince and The Little Mermaid that influenced her imagination. Her room reflects the playfulness of insects living a fanciful and fulfilling life set apart from the human world.

The Victorian-inspired wallpaper design and window draperies, the intricate insect patterns, and the stories told by Alice and Percy are all created by Angus. To complete the Victorian rooms, Angus employs objects from The Newark Museum’s Decorative Arts Collection – small tables, cabinets and other objects – on which she displays additional insect collections and fairytale stories.

“Through this installation, visitors will have the opportunity to learn both myth and science in an exhibition that brings together the fields of art, history and entomology,” said Beth Venn, co-curator of Insecta Fantasia and Curator of Modern and Contemporary Art and Senior Curator of American Art at The Newark Museum. “It will also help people understand the richness and immensely interesting variety of the insect world while bringing them back to a time where collecting, mounting, identifying and classifying insects was a common pastime.”

Insecta Fantasia is the fifteenth solo exhibition by Angus, who is the Associate Professor of Environment, Textiles and Design, at the University of Wisconsin, Madison. In order to prepare for the exhibition, Angus spent months of design and curatorial research with The Newark Museum’s co-curators of Insecta Fantasia, Beth Venn and Sule Oygur, Curator of Natural Science Collections.

The insects are prepared for mounting by Angus and her assistants at the University of Wisconsin. To meet the needs of her intricate designs, the body parts of each insect are placed in exact position. Angus spreads every wing and braces each leg and antenna individually using several pins per specimen. Once mounted and dried, she carefully removes all but one pin on each insect and places them in a specially designed box for storage and transport. Installation of the 5,000-specimen Insecta Fantasia in The Ballantine House took more than a week.

No endangered species are used in Insecta Fantasia. A devoted collector of insects herself, Angus reuses the same insects in the numerous exhibitions that she has installed over the past several years. A critical opponent of casual collecting, Angus obtains her specimens from farmers in Thailand and Malaysia who rear insects using practices and procedures that protect this renewable resource.

Insecta Fantasia allows the visitor to see up close what a cicada looks like and to discover how science played an integral role in the life of the young explorer in the Victorian era,” remarked Oygur. “The Newark Museum provides a program guide where visitors can learn about the insects being used in the exhibition and encourages them to imagine what it’s like to be explorers and entomologists.”

Insecta Fantasia
is the first of a series of single artist exhibition projects that will take place throughout 2009 and 2010 to celebrate The Newark Museum’s Centennial celebration. In each instance, contemporary artists are being asked to consider the points of intersection between some of the Museum’s historical collecting departments: American Art; Asian Art; Africa, America and the Pacific; Decorative Arts; and Science.

These investigations are intended to break down the boundaries that museums typically place between curatorial departments and to find interesting and meaningful connections and commonality between seemingly divergent areas of study and display within the Museum.

Unique programming including Insecta Fantasia exhibition tours and family programs are planned. Families can join the Museum’s science explorers to learn about the fascinating insects throughout the month of November on Saturdays and Sundays from 1-4 pm; tours will also be conducted during the Thanksgiving Family Festival on Friday, November 28 from 12:30-4:30.

Insecta Fantasia Family Day will be held on Saturday, December 27, from 12-4:30 pm. Families can explore the exhibition and then view insects, from giant phasmids and grasshoppers to katydids and cicadas. Visitors will be encouraged to create their own works of art.

A podcast on how the Insecta Fantasia exhibition was made will be on The Newark Museum’s Web site, iTunes, Facebook and Myspace pages and on YouTube. To learn more about this exhibition and others, visit

The Newark Museum is located at 49 Washington Street in the Downtown/Arts District of Newark, New Jersey, just 3 blocks from NJPAC and 10 miles west of New York City. The Museum is open all year round: Wednesdays through Fridays, from Noon – 5:00 p.m.; Saturdays and Sundays, from 10:00 a.m. – 5:00 p.m., October 1 – June 30; and Saturdays and Sundays, from Noon – 5:00 p.m., July 1 – September 30. Suggested Museum admission: Adults, $9.00; Children, Seniors and Students with valid I.D., $6.00. Members are admitted free. The Museum Café is open for lunches Wednesday through Sunday. Convenient parking is available for a fee. For general information, call 973-596-6550 or visit our web site, The Newark Museum, a not-for-profit museum of art, science and education, receives operating support from the City of Newark, the State of New Jersey, the New Jersey State Council on the Arts/Department of State—a partner agency of the National Endowment for the Arts, the New Jersey Cultural Trust, the Prudential Foundation, the Geraldine R. Dodge Foundation, the Victoria Foundation, the Wallace Foundation, and other corporations, foundations and individuals. Funds for acquisitions and activities other than operations are provided by members and other contributors.

The Newark Museum is just a few steps from the NJTransit Light Rail Washington Park Station. Direct connection with the Light Rail at the Broad Street Station and through Penn Station makes the Museum a convenient ride from all points in the region.

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