Research Center Auctions Paintings Done by Apes

By Melissa Lafsky | November 25, 2008 11:20 am

bonoboWho says the art world is suffering from the downturn? A project by the Great Ape Trust of Iowa involves an exhibition and auction of original painting, with the proceeds going towards wildlife conservation efforts. The only catch: The artists are all apes.

These simian painters consist of a group of orangutans and bonobos who reside at the Trust for behavioral study. Lest anyone think the captive apes’ work is forced labor, the artists are given a choice over whether they’d like to paint—though experts say the cognitive challenge of making art ups the apes’ life enrichment—and are allowed total discretion over which canvases, colors, and brush strokes they use. The results are a Pollock-esque mix of bright colors and shapes—as well as a couple self-portraits that look a little too detailed to be done by ape hands alone. Not that we’re suggesting anything. (For a slideshow, go here.)

Last year, when the auction debuted, it raised $16,725 for the Great Ape Trust’s two major conservation initiatives, the Gishwati Area Conservation Program in Rwanda and the Ketambe Research Center on the island of Sumatra. Bidding for this work is already up to $1,200—more than what the average human makes for a piece of art these days.

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