Beginning in Gallery 1: Magnificent Menagerie is a circus of artistry and history in motion! We are devoting all 4 galleries to the pageantry and performance of circus, with artistic works and historic artifacts on display ranging in date from 1890 to the present. In fact, the most recent work was completed on-site May 27, as artist Glen C. Davies appeared alive and in person to create a gigantic sideshow banner specifically for our exhibition! View this and many other extraordinary works adorning our walls, floors, ceilings, and building façade. Installed to cajole the memory and excite your imagination, Magnificent Menagerie is the only place to view the region's largest pink elephant—for a limited time only!
Magnificent Menagerie is a tightrope act that asks viewers to balance history and art with their own interpretative meanings. Tigers are leaping and elephants are dancing between 21 circus posters, interspersed with drawings by Danell Dvorak, sideshow banners by Glen C. Davies, film footage from circuses past (1930s-1960s), and a video of I.S.U.'s Gamma Phi Circus performance from April 16, 2011. Gamma Phi's tightrope has been stretched taut with a bicycle stranded without a rider. Modern triple and duo trapezes hang opposite the Valentino's Double trap and catchbar—last used in 1950. Each aerial feature hangs heavy without movement, anticipating your investigation.
Only in Galleries 2, 2.5 & 3: Come and see the mysterious museum of the sideshow where curiosity's arousal is enough to inundate the senses with mystique and wonder! A tributary feeding both into and away from the midway, the sideshow offers access into the unknown. A river of inquiry chartered by commerce, the sideshow explores the exotic, erotic, spectacular, and amusing while challenging one's own sense of reality. In Gallery 2, Davies' sideshow banners are contextualized by Sverre O. Braathen's photographs of 1940s and 1950s midways and sideshows, as well as Fred G. Johnson's sideshow banners. In Gallery 2.5, visitors are granted access to Davies' sketchbook. Configured into a cloud of curiosity on the gallery wall, segments of tracing paper, torn canvas, and scraps of paper offer intimate views of his artistic process and history. In Gallery 3, the clowns, dancers, elephants, and dogs in Dvorak's drawings perform in still silence, leaving only the suggestions of movement. Within this space, community members are encouraged to share their memories of circus past and present, whether through illustration or written commentary.
Davies traveled with the circus beginning in 1973 as an artist employed to paint circus signage, including banners. His work has been exhibited at the Art Institute of Chicago, the Chicago Cultural Center, the Krannert Art Museum, the Field Museum of Natural History, and the Huntsville Museum of Art. His works reside in the collections of the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, the Field Museum of Natural History, McDonald's Corporation, the Krannert Art Museum and Kinkead Pavilion, as well as numerous private collections. Davies' first-hand experience and artistic accomplishments have positioned him to make significant contributions to the history of the circus and the sideshow in particular. His writing is central to the 1995 classic, Freaks, Geeks, & Strange Girls: Sideshow Banners of the Great American Midway. Davies lives and works in Urbana, IL.
Dvorak works as a painter, ceramicist, and teaching artist. With numerous artist-in-residences throughout the state of Illinois, including recent appointments with multiple schools districts,
Dvorak's artistic pursuits are linked directly with community empowerment and education. Her teaching experience is deepened by work with the Illinois Migrant Council, Eureka College, and Heartland Community College. Dvorak has exhibited her work nationally. She completed her graduate work at Illinois State University and her bachelor's at Illinois Wesleyan University, and currently lives in Bloomington, IL.
Truly a community collaboration, Magnificent Menagerie was co-organized with Illinois State University's Circus and Allied Arts Collection at Milner Library and the Gamma Phi Circus. The breadth of historic circus content was loaned by Milner Library, and the majority of the performance equipment displayed in the exhibition was loaned by Gamma Phi Circus. Additional artifacts were loaned by the Flying Valentinos—George Valentine, Lorraine Valentine, and Sue Pelto—courtesy of the Valentine Family.