Sharks Swim into Museum of Art Exhibit

Nearly 40 years ago, lights dimmed in movie theaters around the world and ominous music picked up tempo as danger circled a young woman taking a moonlight swim in still ocean waters. Suddenly, the creature attacked and the image of nature’s ultimate predator was seared into human consciousness.

Steven Spielberg’s hit movie, Jaws

“SHARK,” a collaboration with Nova Southeastern University’s Oceanographic Center, is actually many exhibits in one—part anthropology and zoology lesson, and part historical survey with plenty of pop culture thrown in.

While an entire room is devoted to Peter Benchley’s landmark novel, Jaws, and Spielberg’s film, the exhibit looks at historical portrayals of sharks, current methods to study the animals in their natural habitats, fishing and ecological impacts on the species.

“Sharks have long fascinated man,” explains marine artist and author Richard Ellis, curator of the exhibit, “some ancient societies even revered them as gods….This exhibition delves into a variety of issues in an examination of the human impact on sharks. It explores the shark as a predator and its portrayal in culture, the importance of shark conservation, the biology of the myriad of shark species and the thrill of shark encounters.”

The exhibition opens with a reproduction of John Singleton Copley’s painting “Watson and the Shark” (ca. 1778), the first known depiction of the shark as a man-eater. Copley’s fascination is shared by contemporary artists, including Robert Longo, Jose Bedia, Kcho and Damien Hirst, all of whom have works included in the exhibit.

Visitors wander among native carvings and tools crafted with shark teeth, displaying the reverence afforded the creature by native tribes who coexisted with them on remote islands. They can also explore the reinforced steel cages and mesh dive suits that allow contemporary scientists and adventurers to get up close and personal with the unpredictable sharks in relative safety.

One of the highlights of the exhibit is a room filled with contemporary and abstract renderings of sharks constructed from found objects and neglected machine parts, hung from the ceiling as if swimming across the gallery.

Among the most dramatic installations is a series of watercolors by British wildlife illustrator Marc Dando depicting more than 400 species of shark.

While the shark is more frequently depicted as an unmatched killer, the reality is they are becoming endangered by overfishing, particularly by Asian fisherman who harvest the coveted shark fin only to throw the remaining carcass overboard. Without action, sharks could disappear from the wild within our lifetimes.

And, as for those shark attacks that nearly always garner sensational international headlines, the exhibit points out that attacks on humans are extremely rare.

Irvin Lippman, director of the museum, says, “SHARK is a stunning and timely exhibition about how the shark has entered the public imagination and how artists, over the decades, have portrayed one of the most fascinating, vulnerable and misunderstood marine animals on the planet.”

Lippman, who will be retiring from the museum in June, adds, “Even though ‘Jaws’ came out in 1975, there is hardly a six-year-old who comes in who doesn’t know about the movie….this exhibit really appeals across the generations.


Museum of Art Fort Lauderdale, 1 Las Olas Blvd.

Open daily 10 a.m. – 5 p.m., Sundays 12 p.m. – 5 p.m., closed Mondays

Through Jan 6, 2013

Admission $10 adults, $7 seniors, children 6-17 $5

Group rates available

For more information, go to

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