‘We’re seeing how they’re reacting to art’: Penguins get private tour around empty museum

Closed because of Missouri's lockdown, the Nelson-Atkins museum in Kansas City welcomed three two-foot-high visitors

Andrew Naughtie
Friday 15 May 2020 17:32 BST
Penguins from Missouri zoo take trip to art museum

A shuttered art museum in Missouri gave a private viewing this week to some special visitors: three Peruvian penguins from a nearby zoo.

Kansas City’s Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art, welcomed the penguins in to wander its empty halls as the state’s lockdown measures keep public spaces closed to humans.

CEO Julián Zugazagoitia welcomed the “special friends” from the zoo, who waddled around quietly in a two-foot-tall phalanx to peruse the works on display, stopping here and there

The Nelson-Atkins boasts an internationally renowned collection of art from across the world, with more than 34,000 objects including African art and sculpture spanning two millennia, a vast Asian collection, and paintings by European masters from El Greco to Reubens to Van Gogh.

While wild penguins are not known for their taste in high culture – though in fairness, their craggy and sometimes freezing marine habitats are seldom blessed with vibrant art scenes – they do have a clear intelligence about them, regularly performing feats of memory and navigation as well as selective listening and rapid information processing.

According to the zoo’s CEO, Randy Wisthoff, a trip to the museum, it seems, was just the thing to lift their spirits and open their minds.

“Taking care of wild animals at the Kansas City Zoo, we’re always looking to enrich their lives and stimulate their days,” he said. “And during this shutdown period, our animals really miss having visitors come out and see them.”

Mr Zugazagoitia said they made their feelings clear enough. “We’re seeing how they’re reacting to art. They seem to react much better to Caravaggio than Monet. And these are Peruvian penguins, so we were speaking a bit in Spanish, and they really appreciated art history.”

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