Interviews

Woman Creates an Art Gallery for Her Lizard With “American Gecko” and “The Birth of Gecko”

“Every pet deserves a cultural outing,” says The Mayor’s owner Jill Young.

The Gecko Museum in Dallas showcases classic masterpieces by Edvard Munch and Sandro Botticelli, reimagined for an, um, “cooler” audience (all images courtesy of Jill Young / @jillisyoung)

Last week, we broke the story of the season’s most hotly-anticipated and social distancing-friendly opening, the Gerbil Museum in London. Today, we bring you an exciting interview with Jill Young, founder of the Gecko Museum in Dallas, Texas. We don’t want to get ahead of ourselves, but the emergence of pet museums may be more than a fun quarantine activity, signaling an important new industry trend.

The Mayor, Young’s lizard, was unavailable for interview due to a series of Zoom studio visits, but Young shared his artistic and culinary preferences, commented frankly on the challenges of adapting an exhibition space to reptilian climbing habits, and even gave us a scoop on not-yet-announced shows at the Gecko Museum.

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Hyperallergic: Tell us a bit about your gecko.

Jill Young: His name is The Mayor! He is a crested gecko. I can’t be exactly sure how old The Mayor is, as he was fully grown when I got him, but I’m guessing he’s around five years old now. He loves to climb and jump, and has an affinity for baby food (as a treat), particularly mango.

H: How did he enjoy the opening of the museum?

JY: Opening night was exciting, though a little nerve-racking. I had to wait to show The Mayor (who is nocturnal) ’til he woke up, at around 7pm. Luckily, after some initial hesitation at being removed from his usual enclosure, The Mayor warmed up to the personalized exhibition.

The Mayor’s eclectic artistic tastes determined the scope and breadth of the exhibition’s curation.

H: The show includes works by artists such as Botticelli and Mondrian, spanning historical periods and genres. What led you to this curatorial decision?

JY: The Mayor has a refined and eclectic taste, and I wanted to cover a range of art genres and pieces in hopes of winning his respect. Also, I tried to choose pieces that I felt I could show as much of a gecko’s shape as possible, like “The Birth of Venus” (“The Birth of Gecko”) as they are rather difficult to paint from head-on.

H: Were there any works the gecko gravitated to in particular?

JY: The Mayor was particularly fond of my “American Gothic” spoof, “American Gecko.” I guess he’s in an American Modernism phase.

“American Gecko” is one of The Mayor’s favorite works from the show; here he climbs dangerously close to the painting.

H: In one photograph, The Mayor seems to have crossed the velvet rope protecting the art. Was he just overly excited, or is this part of a performance piece?

JY: Initially I’d hoped that the velvet ropes would discourage The Mayor from climbing on the paintings, but he pretty immediately climbed under them. I now understand that The Mayor’s relationship to art is a necessarily tactile one, which I can appreciate.

H: You mentioned you were inspired by Filippo and Marianna’s gerbil museum. Is there a friendly rivalry going on here? Are you competing for the same fundraising dollars?

JY: I am a big fan of Filippo and Marianna’s gerbil museum, as is The Mayor. The rodent and reptile communities have different artistic preferences, so I’m not too concerned about competing markets, though I’d be very interested to see other animals joining the fold. Someone on Twitter mentioned the idea of a fish museum, and I do hope they create one. Every pet deserves a cultural outing.

H: Can you give us a sneak peek into any future exhibitions at the Gecko Museum? We would love an exclusive.

JY: I heard from the head curator there may be a touring sculpture exhibition coming soon, although that may be a rumor. All I can say is, keep your eyes out for “Gecko David.”

Young hopes a museum for fish will open soon.
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