‘For the Love of Birds’ MONCA exhibition


open spacious room with white walls and light brown hardwood floors. Colorful abstract and nonobjective art hangs on the walls in a line. Three rectangular pedestals display art.

The gallery space at MONCA. Photo taken by Katie Callahan.

As a volunteer at The Museum of Northern California Art, I get firsthand knowledge of the upcoming exhibits. When I learned about the “For the Love of Birds Exhibit,” I have to admit I was a bit disappointed. When you hear the title, it is easy to assume the exhibit will consist of images of birds flying or laying eggs, something you might see on a glossy magazine page in National Geographic. But after seeing the exhibit in its entirety, I realized how wrong my assumptions were.

The exhibit at MONCA includes some typical photographs of birds in flight and has a large variety of pieces consisting of different mediums, styles and interpretations of birds and their significance to the artists’ lives. The exhibit runs from Jan. 26 to March 19 in conjunction with the Snow Goose Festival, celebrating the return of geese to the pacific.  

The gallery space is open and inviting and the hardwood floors and fireplace in one area create a warm and homely atmosphere. The pieces include collages, prints, paintings, mosaics and sculptures all with different representations of birds. One mosaic piece depicts Big Bird with oversized wide eyes and yellow pieces spreading from the form, making the character look insane.

Two other pieces depict birds made from clock parts. They are intricate and small, placed along lines of wire to make them look like they are perched on electrical and telephone wires. 

There are more abstract pieces in which the form of the birds is more difficult to make out, but provide a break in the more typical representation of birds in the gallery. One piece, “Nesting” by Michelle Morgan, sticks out along one of the side walls. 

Three paintings hanging on a white wall. the paintings are black and white and two of them have orange dots. the middle photo shows a kind of half-bird pregnant human woman sitting on an egg with cracks in it
Photo of “Nesting,” by Michelle Morgan. Photo taken by Katie Callahan.

The inclusion of a bird is not immediately clear when first glancing at this piece; the wings and egg provide context for the illusion of the bird. There are two bird heads with upturned beaks in her hair as well, mouths agape for presumably their mother to feed them. This piece emphasizes the topic of women’s fertility, as she is perched, nude, on a cracking egg, which the viewer can interpret to be her own offspring. She is alone as well, like many female birds who nest and care for their offspring alone, like single mothers. The piece is a darker print, making it stand out against the lighter prints on either side, adding a more serious note to the piece as well.

Brown chairs facing three tv screens that show waterfowl.
MONCA’s video display. Photo taken by Katie Callahan.

Interestingly, MONCA also provides a display of three bird videos that play as people walk around. They also play bird calls and nature sounds which add to the ambiance when walking through the exhibit. The variety of pieces paired with the sounds of nature creates a sensory experience that engages the viewer’s ears as well as eyes. 

Despite my apprehension at its name, “For the Love of Birds” is one of my favorite MONCA exhibits yet. The huge assortment of pieces makes for such an interesting and dynamic exhibit, that not only displays images of birds but the meaning of birds as icons in these Northern Californian artists’ lives and backgrounds. 

Birds are not simply the animals seen and heard every day walking outside, but a vessel for artists to express rebirth, renewal, freedom and abstract ideas. All of the components of the exhibit create such a vivid sense of life that makes it a wonder to look at. Walking around for each volunteer shift and taking a peak at the works, there’s always something new to enjoy.