• Sunshine City Kids

"'The Grasshopper and the Ant' and Other Stories as told by Jennifer Angus" Opens Oct. 12

Swarm to the Museum of Fine Arts with the whole family for this thought-provoking exhibit.

Stow away your expectations and be prepared to enter an insect-filled world of wonder at the Museum of Fine Arts’ newest installation, “‘The Grasshopper and the Ant’ and Other Stories, as told by Jennifer Angus” opening in downtown St. Petersburg this Saturday, Oct. 12.

Inspired by Aesop’s Fables, University of Wisconsin-Madison professor of textile design and renowned Canadian artist Jennifer Angus invites museum-goers of all ages into an immersive environment of aesthetically-pleasing and symmetrical landscapes full of six-legged insects adorning the 22-foot walls of the 7,000-square-foot Hazel Hough Wing.

The one-of-a-kind, site-specific exhibit — a year in the making — is meant to be an experience with lots to see, explore, and discover upon further inspection. Messages and stories are intertwined throughout the space, but the goal, according to Angus, is to “provoke a series of increasingly urgent questions about our perceptions and what we value and protect.”

Angus uses about 5,000 real insects in the installation, all either farmed or caught in the wild by entomologists in tropical places all over the world. Her self-professed “magpie tendencies” and affinity for shiny things were piqued during a textile research trip to Thailand where she encountered a local tribe using iridescent beetles to adorn their shawls. The exhibit seamlessly meshes her eye for patterns and design with a reverence for the beauty of the insect world.

Beetles used in clothing.

The experience begins with an Alice-in-Wonderland-like trip through the Ant’s Pantry, a dark tunnel lined with a variety of insects in jars (all of which are preserved by Angus herself) and continues into a garden where guests are made to feel “as small as an ant." Angus hopes to "shift the scale" and your perspective as you navigate this room.

After taking in all of the powerful imagery and messages in the garden, visitors — and the insects — are invited to a Dinner Party, still life-style, where taxidermied Floridian animals sit at, on, and under the table (does this sound like a family dinner at your house?). Following this unexpected scene and perhaps a visit to the Reading Room, the next stop is the Cabinet of Curiosities. This room celebrates the Age of Enlightenment and the scientific method while offering a view of insects leading lives like our own.

With each room reminiscent of a children's book — including Alice in Wonderland, There Was an Old Lady Who Swallowed a Fly, and Horton Hears a Who — and quotes from Aesop's Fables printed on the Victorian receiving cards available to take home, the big question for us parents is "how kid-friendly is this exhibit actually?" As moms to children with varying personalities, we give it a big Sunshine City Kids stamp of approval.

The messages presented are great conversation starters for the bigger kids (everything from climate change to gun violence to misogyny to book burning is covered in these remarkable pieces) and the imagery is bold and exceptionally beautiful for everyone. Plus, kids love insects, right?

The challenge is, of course, the fragility of the art. There are no barriers between guests and the insects on the walls so your wild child may want to sit this one out or hang in the stroller or carrier. This sounds a little scary, but guards and staff will be present at all times to remind visitors to use an abundance of caution (and to answer questions) when viewing the exhibit.

For general museum rules, oversized bags and outside food and drinks are not allowed, but smaller strollers are welcomed. (Vandi can attest to the oversized bag rule as she almost backed into one of the pieces while trying to grab a photo. *facepalm)

We are excited to return with our own children for some one-on-one interaction and conversation about current issues. A recurring theme found here is that everything matters, even the tiniest ant, and that action is important and impactful.

And as MFA Executive Director Kristen Shepherd says, “once (the exhibit) is gone, it’s gone.”

Artist Jennifer Angus to talk process on Oct. 12 at the MFA.

Don’t miss your chance to see the “‘The Grasshopper and the Ant’ and Other Stories as told by Jennifer Angus,” open this Saturday, Oct. 12 through Jan. 5, 2020. Other related events include: an artist talk with Angus on Oct. 12, 2pm; Museum Minis - Incredible Insects! on Nov. 6, 10am; Explore More! Family Days - All About Insects on Nov. 16, 11am-2pm; and Fall Camp - Grateful Grasshoppers on Nov. 25.

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