Penguins bond over day out at the Chicago Museum of Modern Art

Chicago News

Izzy and Darwin bonded over their shared love of art, long walks on the beach – and the fact they were the only two Magellanic Penguins found in the Chicago Museum of Contemporary art.

Chicago’s MCA played host to penguin partners Izzy and Darwin who had a special preview of the exhibition Just Connect. Waddling through paintings and photographs of Ellen Berkenblit, Andreas Gursky, Paul Heyer, Kerry James Marshall – the penguins appeared appreciative for their grand day out from their usual habitat – the Shedd Aquarium.

Enrichment: The birds need stimulus and new habitats to compliment their natural behaviour. Photo / The Shedd
Enrichment: The birds need stimulus and new habitats to compliment their natural behaviour. Photo / The Shedd

As Magellanic penguins, they naturally bond in breeding pairs as partners for life. This habit caught the imagination of museum curators who invited the penguins for a private tour.

Chief curator Michael Darling noted that a “vivid floor-to-ceiling mural by Ad Minoliti” was a particular hit with the pair of art appreciating birds. This could possibly be because they recognised something of themselves in the vintage logos and retro “penguin book” covers from the 1970s, used in the work.

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The penguins were not shy to explore the museum’s collections which have been cautiously welcoming back visitors with new public health protocols in place.

Museums and art galleries in the US have suffered a decline in visits since the coronavirus pandemic. The MCA says it hopes this “field trip encourages Chicagoans to plan a visit to both cultural institutions, which are open to the public.”

Magellanic penguins Izzy and Darwin had the Chicago Museum all to themselves. Photo / The Shedd
Magellanic penguins Izzy and Darwin had the Chicago Museum all to themselves. Photo / The Shedd

For those who – unlike the penguins – cannot visit and share the experience of the Illinois art institutions because of health and travel restrictions, the MCA has digitised their artworks in the virtual events website The Commons Online.

The penguins were the first to enjoy the MCA exhibition Just Connect. Photo / The Shedd
The penguins were the first to enjoy the MCA exhibition Just Connect. Photo / The Shedd

This day out at the museum for Izzy and Darwin is just the latest “field trip” organised by The Shedd Aquarium. As well as fine art, the outing was designed to promote “exercise and variety for the penguins each day as part of a comprehensive welfare plan,” said the Shedd’s animal care team. There are a variety of marine animals to care for in the Shedd – from penguins to the aquarium’s 950kg Beluga whale, all of which require an “enrichment” programme.

The Shedd's Animal Enrichment Team took Izzy and Darwin on a trip to the MCA. Photo / The Shedd
The Shedd’s Animal Enrichment Team took Izzy and Darwin on a trip to the MCA. Photo / The Shedd

“Enrichment complements natural behaviours,” says the Shedd, which is ” anything that provides an animal with additional mental or physical activity.”

For an otter that might be a visit to see snow in the local park, for an octopus that could be a puzzle that must be solved to unlock an edible reward, and for Magellanic penguins: a day at the museum.

What else would you expect from sophisticated-looking birds, in their black and white dinner-jacket markings?

Black and White: Chief curator Michael Darling invited the penguins on a field trip to the Musuem. Photo / The Shedd
Black and White: Chief curator Michael Darling invited the penguins on a field trip to the Musuem. Photo / The Shedd

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