Half a dozen police officers stopped by the Lower East Side gallery Ramiken Crucible on Saturday afternoon after receiving a call that there were multiple tigers in the lobby of a building on Grand Avenue.
They weren’t wrong. Since May 19, the gallery has housed two five-month-old white tigers as part of a group show-cum-installation, titled “Ideal Pole,” masterminded by Norwegian artist Bjarne Melgaard. “People in the neighborhood don’t really know what to make of it,” gallery owner Mike Ursuta told ARTINFO. Saturday marked the second time police had stopped by the gallery in response to neighborhood calls.
Upon arrival, the policemen trickled into the small gallery space, circled the cage in which the tigers were playing, growling, and rolling overtop one another, then requested that the trainer, seated on a sofa next to the cage, step outside. Asked whether they were confirming if the trainer had proper documentation for the tigers, an officer told ARTINFO that they looked over the documents, but really, they were just chatting about exotic animals.
“When we got the call, we thought, ‘That can’t be right,'” said the officer, as he peered through the window into the gallery as if to check in on the tigers. “We just came to check it out.”
Ursuta seemed pleased that this reporter happened to be present during the uneventful police encounter. “People seem to assume we’re doing something subversive or illegal, but it is all above board,” he said. Nevertheless, the gallery has been under scrutiny for housing the tigers in what some deem an unsafe environment. Gothamist reported that the Ohio farm that owns the animals has also incurred multiple citations for unsafe conditions.
“The baby tigers on display at the Ramiken Crucible gallery were prematurely removed from their mothers, transported to New York from a game farm in Ohio that has been cited for failing to meet minimum standards of the federal Animal Welfare Act, and are confined to a tiny barren cage inside an art gallery,” the Humane Society of the U.S. said in a statement to the site. The gallery did not immediately return a request for comment on Gothamist’s report. (The owners, for their part, told ARTINFO they had “rescued” the tigers’ parents.)
Melgaard’s show runs through July 8 (you can read Roberta Smith‘s lackluster review here), but the tigers left their post on Sunday. During the second part of the show, Melgaard will present artwork by mental patients he teaches at Bellevue Hospital.
— Julia Halperin