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The Latest Visitors to the Nelson Atkins Museum? A Trio of Penguins

Three Humboldt penguins got a private tour of the museum, and it turns out they like Caravaggio.

“Does this place have a gift shop?” Penguins from the Kansas City Zoo visited the Nelson Atkins this month. All images courtesy of the Nelson Atkins Museum of Art.

While institutions are closed amid public health concerns, we’ve all enjoyed stories of animals being given free rein to wander around zoos, but news out of Kansas City this week really underscores how much we’ve been limiting their cultural options. As reported by TIME, three art-savvy Humboldt penguins from the Kansas City Zoo were given leave to wander a couple of the galleries at the Nelson Atkins Museum of Art earlier in May.

A video produced by the museum shows the little fellas wandering the marble floors and pausing to look at Impressionist and Baroque master paintings, in galleries that were carefully checked to ensure the safety of both the works of art and their avian visitors.

“We’re so happy to welcome our colleagues from the zoo,” said Nelson Atkins Executive Director Julián Zugazagoitia, in the video, “and they’ve brought special friends, and actually, we’re seeing how they’re reacting to art.”


“That’s not art,” one penguin was overheard saying. “Why, my nestling could do that.”

“At the Kansas City Zoo, we’re always looking for ways to enrich their [the animals’] lives and stimulate their days,” said Randy Wisthoff, Executive Director and CEO of the zoo. “During this shutdown period, our animals really miss having people come out and see them.”

“Interesting, but needs more fish,” said another penguin, of Monet.

According to Zugzagoitia, the penguins responded most strongly to Caravaggio, which seems a little dark for such cute birds, until you realize the existential pain of flightlessness.

This penguin was a philosophy major and is a serious drag at penguin parties, according to his friends.

“I am earthbound, trapped in a prison of my own biology, and another of concrete and metal,” said the third penguin, standing a ways off from the others and staring deeply at the image “St. John the Baptist in the Wilderness.” “I too am lost in the wilderness, but to me, humanity is the wilderness.”

“Something is wrong with that lion, it’s not moving at all.”

I think we can all agree that this heartwarming content is excellent news during uncertain times, and it’s wonderful to hear that at least a few art-goers are able to enjoy our institutions during the shutdown. Now if you’ll excuse me, I need to get to a pitch meeting at Netflix. I’m about to sell a totally original script that’s a mash-up between We Bought a Zoo and Night at the Museum. It’s called, We Bought the Zoo a Night at the Museum.

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