After our show at apexart opened and Jeffery Deitch and Carlo McCormick’s talk were all over, my girlfriend, Gracen, and I had Friday to try and catch as many museums, galleries, and bookstores (mainly Printed Matter) as possible. Gracen works for the Field Museum in Chicago in the Insect Division, where she spends most of her days dis-articulating beetles. When she found out we were going to be in New York, she contacted the American Museum of Natural History to see if we could get a behind the scenes tour of their collections. Dr. Lee Herman was kind enough to show us around his office and pull a couple of specimens out for us. Since Gracen and I could not settle on what images to use or who was best suited to discuss this (she’s shy) we will be tag teaming this post. All of Gracen’s comments will appear in purple.

Although curatorial practices are generally  standardized, there can still be some variations in how an individual curator organizes their collection. The American Museum of Natural History (AMNH) is well known for many of their collections, which I was looking forward to checking out. The museum houses the most important research collection of insects fossilized in amber, containing the oldest known amber dating back to the Cretaceous period (circa 145.5 to 65.5million years ago) and the largest spider (Araneae) collection in the world. The museum houses Alfred Kinsey‘s (that’s right – the sex dude) entire gall wasp collection, which he studied for his doctoral thesis. With so many renowned specimens, we asked Lee to show us some of his favorites.


Overlooking Central Park West, Lee’s office was a well sized work and reading space. When asked if the museum had a private library Lee replied, “this is it” as he gestured towards his bookshelves. Unfortunately I did not get a chance to take photographs of some drawings he had completed on female genital that felt like an older generation of draftsmanship that he still maintained.  As Gracen and him talked shop I glanced around the room; old maps, toys and stack of papers were small mounds in neat stacks around his desk.


Gracen looking very proffesh.

Checking out some Micromalthidae (see below).


As we walked around the museum, hallways were filled with cabinets that housed collections. They looked so banal it’s hard to imagen all of the data housed inside them. If I had to compare the aesthetics of the place, it would be close to an abandoned locker room. While heading back to Lee’s office we found five displays in the corner of the east hallway. Formerly a part of exhibitions form the 50’s, these models were all sculpted out of wax. When the museum was going to throw them away the insect department took them. Several other displays that had been broken or were of no use to the museum anymore were around different sections of some of the offices. It was hard not to notice the staff’s appreciation for the work that was done and instead of disposing of the displays they are scattered about the halls.

These wax models are commonly seen in older museum displays (For you Chicagoians, check out the Hall of Plants at The Field Museum to see some well crafted wax flowers – it’s pretty impressive) . It’s few and far between these days to see exhibits on insects, so it was exciting to see even an old display that highlights the complexity of these commonly overlooked creatures.


These little buggers are telephone-pole beetles (Coleoptera: Micromalthidae) only a little bigger than a millimeter. Lee told us that these were found by the shovel-full in the oak vaults of a Wall Street bank. They live in and off of rotting wood (one of their favs being oak) during larval and adult phases.


I wouldn’t go as far to say that I was bored, because I was not, but after seeing beetle after beetle I began to look around to see what else were in the rooms that housed the collection. I love storage containers. Just get me to a Container Store and although it is totally overpriced I will always find some box that will help organize my already minimal and organized possessions. So when I saw these boxes I was really excited and snapped a pic to see if I could find them online for a project I am working on that is taking the shape of an archive. Alas, I have yet to find them.


These Goliath Beeltes (Scarabaeidae: Cetoniinae) are some of the biggest beetles around. Living in the forests of Africa, these beasts live off of sap and fruit – not as ferocious as you might think.

I don’t really have much to say about this photo other than that the one far left in the middle looked seriously badass.


Also in the Scarab family are these guys – the Rhinoceros beetles (Dynastinae). The males’ large horns are a product of sexual selection; not only are they used for battling eachother for mates, but also they are a visual clue to the females that a male has ‘strong genes’ (i.e. it is healthy enough that it can lug this giant, heavy protrusion around without getting eaten by predators), which would increase their offsprings’ survival rate.

Back in September I watched a film called Beetle Queen Conquers Tokyo. The film was directed by Jessica Oreck, who is also an  employee of the American Museum of Natural History. Many of the shots in the movie were of Rhinoceros beetles.

Yeah, Rhino beetles are commonly sold as pets in Japan.

Meg Onli

Meg Onli is a visual artist and blogger born and raised in Los Angeles, California. Meg moved to Chicago, Illinois in 2005 where she received a Bachelor in Fine Arts from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. She has been with the Chicago-based art and culture podcast/blog Bad at Sports since 2006 where she is currently the Associate Producer. She has an unfathomable apatite for documentary films, 60s & 70s performance art, and cute cats. Meg has exhibited work in Los Angeles, Chicago, and New York City. Currently, she is working on a project that documents her steps in recording Motwon’s first girl group sensation, the Marvelettes, version of “Where did Our Love Go?”

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