Chimp Makes Monkeys of Abstract Artists
Next month, the swift gabble of a London art auctioneer will peddle out the classic workings of Renoir, Warhol, and Congo the Chimpanzee. The sound of crickets chirping enters the newsroom.
The paintings are no Campbell’s soup can pieces de resistance, but they do demonstrate the ape’s forte of coloring inside the lines.
Congo the Chimpanzee learned early the control of brushes and paint in the late 1950’s. At just two-years-old, he had already stopped trying to eat them, and had begun to create mind-spinningly original tours de force (please excuse the excessive use of French. This is an art story, after all).
Reportedly, even Picasso noted Congo’s penchant for abstract expressionism and honored the ape by framing one of his paintings for display in his studio.
And now, 50 years later, Congo’s suddenly en vogue paintings are to be auctioned off at the Modern and Contemporary Art at Bonhams of London. The three paintings are tempera on paper and are said to be “brightly colored compositions of bold brushstrokes.”
Sold as a single lot, they are expected to sell for up to $1500.
Congo created his art under animal behaviorist Desmond Morris, who was exploring chimpanzees’ ability to “create order and symmetry as well as to explore, at a more primeval level, the impetus behind our own desires for artistic creativity.”
Howard Rutkowski, director of modern and contemporary art at Bonhams, said, “I would sincerely doubt that chimpanzee art has ever been auctioned before.
“I don’t think anybody else has been crazy enough to do this. I’m sure other auction houses think this is completely mad.”
It is unclear if Congo is still alive, but he is thought to be living somewhere in France seeking a new raison d’etre.