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Quarantined Couple Builds Art Museum to Entertain Pet Gerbils

The story of two bored art lovers who found a way to “a-mouse” themselves

London-based couple Filippo Lorenzin and Marianna Benetti built a miniature museum for their pet gerbils. (Courtesy of Filippo Lorenzin)
smithsonianmag.com

Amid a spate of museum closures due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, one London couple has found solace in a new institution that opened its doors earlier this month. But these two aren’t your typical duo: Instead, they’re a pair of gerbils whose very bored owners meticulously cobbled together a gallery of rodent-themed artworks to quell the quarantine blues.

Pets Pandoro and Tiramisù were met with a special surprise on April 5, when Filippo Lorenzin, an independent curator who works at London’s Victoria and Albert Museum, and his girlfriend, artist Marianna Benetti, unveiled a DIY miniature museum—the product of four hours of labor during the couple’s 14th day of quarantine in the United Kingdom.

As promised, this is the full video of our gerbils visiting the museum. No gerbils or gallery assistants were harmed in the making of this. from r/aww

The little gallery features four exquisite paintings modeled on famous masterpieces. Versions of Leonardo da Vinci’s Mona Lisa, Edvard Munch’s The Scream and Gustav Klimt’s The Kiss, all rendered in Benetti’s expert hand, grace the museum’s walls. Each, of course, comes with its own animalistic twist, subbing in a rodent where a human might otherwise feature—tailored, perhaps, to the VIP pint-sized patrons. Johannes Vermeer’s The Girl With the Pearl Earring, for instance, is reimagined as The Gerbil With the Pearl Earring. Each parody is finished off with a clean cardboard frame and a wall label featuring a QR code.

As Lorenzin and Benetti tell Hrag Vartanian of Hyperallergic, the two gerbils—9-month-old brothers—were art virgins prior to the gallery premiere. But by all accounts, their first museum sojourn was a positive experience: “They much enjoyed the display and paid close attention to the quality of the gallery’s props,” the couple explains.

Some of the museum’s props, however, sustained some damage. Cultured yet illiterate, the gerbils didn’t heed “the sign to advise the visitors to not chew” on the institution’s furniture.

The architects seem to have shrugged off the offense. “It was fun to play around with the white cube aesthetics and the raw energy of our gerbils,” Lorenzin tells the Art Newspaper.

Luckily for the hungry rodents, all of the museum’s building materials—a mash-up of cardboard, paper and wood—were gerbil-friendly, reports Sarah Cascone for artnet News.

After dreaming up the museum, Lorenzin and Benetti created a rough sketch of the dimensions. They posted a photo of the plan on social media on April 5 and followed it up with images of the pets’ tour. Unsurprisingly, the snapshots—as well as a subsequent video outlining the visit—went viral, quickly attracting thousands of fans.

Gerbil museum
Gerbils Pandoro and Tiramisù enjoy their homemade museum of rodent-themed art. (Courtesy of Filippo Lorenzin)

One enthusiastic user, SchnoodleDoodleDo, even posted a homespun poem on Reddit that reads:

we gerbil frens, so richly blessed –

this gallery we love the Best!

our wonderment it never ceases

surrounded here by mouseterpieces!

famouse paintings grace the wall –

we scoot around n have a ball.

The gerbil gallery is, of course, a bit too petite to accommodate in-person human visitors. (Such cramped quarters would probably violate distancing guidelines anyway.) But as Lorenzin tells the Art Newspaper, “We hope this will make people who are stuck at home recall good memories in museums and encourage them to support institutions in such uncertain times.”

About Katherine J. Wu
Katherine J. Wu

Katherine J. Wu is a Boston-based science journalist and Story Collider senior producer whose work has appeared in National Geographic, Undark magazine, Popular Science and more. She holds a Ph.D. in Microbiology and Immunobiology from Harvard University, and was Smithsonian magazine's 2018 AAAS Mass Media Fellow.

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