Ulrike Müller and Amy Zion
The Conference of the Animals

The Conference of the Animals is a collaborative project comprised of a painting by Ulrike Müller for the Large Wall in the Queens Museum’s atrium and an exhibition of children’s drawings in and of New York City curated by Amy Zion. The drawings, selected with a special emphasis on their approaches to perspective, composition, and scale, will be incorporated into Müller’s wall painting and extend into an exhibition in an adjacent gallery. The title of this project refers to German writer Erich Kästner’s children’s book The Animal’s Conference (1949), a political satire written in the immediate aftermath of World War II. In the story, the animals are frustrated by the lack of results produced by the humans’ international conferences, and decide to assemble their own in order to save the children and the planet.

Over the past decade, Müller has used colored wall paint to create physical and conceptual backdrops for her enamel paintings, woven wool rugs, and works on paper.  The Conference of the Animals is an opportunity to foreground the painted wall for the first time, using the 140-foot-long, 45-foot-high wall that wraps around the Panorama of the City of New York. Rather than just amplifying elements of smaller-scale works, Müller’s painting of a group of interlocking 40-foot-high animal-like shapes tests how shifts in scale affect the relationship between the work and the viewer. Müller has taken inspiration from the layered history of the Queens Museum, which occupies a building constructed for the 1939 New York World’s Fair, and also hosted the United Nations General Assembly between 1946-1950, a period which, among other things, saw the founding of UNICEF. Other key references are the political and social histories of public art and muralism, and debates on figuration, abstraction, and decoration before and immediately after World War II. The Conference of the Animals is the first major solo museum presentation in New York of Müller’s work. 

Like murals, art by children forms an important part of Western modernist cultural history. Following World War I, drawings by children became a source of inspiration for artists who had witnessed the atrocities of armed conflict, and looked to children to try to make sense of a world gone awry. This exhibition explores how this source of inspiration has gone relatively unexamined compared to the rigorous study of other so-called forms of primitivist art that have informed 20th and 21st century artistic production. Works range from the childhood output of established artists to named and anonymous works of non-professional artists. It will also explore the role of children’s drawing in international diplomacy.

The full-scale exhibition organized by Amy Zion will close August 16, 2020, while the wall painting by Müller remains on view through February 21, 2021. Selected drawings in facsimile form will continue to be on view on the Large Wall through February 21, 2021.

The Conference of the Animals is organized by Larissa Harris, Curator, and Sophia Marisa Lucas, Assistant Curator.

Image: Ulrike Müller, Spekulatius, 2019. Courtesy the artist.

Major funding for the Queens Museum is generously provided by the New York City Department of Cultural Affairs, the New York State Council on the Arts with the support of Governor Andrew Cuomo and the New York State Legislature, the Lambent Foundation, the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, and the Shelley and Donald Rubin Foundation. The official hotel sponsor of the Queens Museum is Boro New York.