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Dragons and other mythic creatures in New York museum exhibit
25 May 2007

NEW YORK (AP) - Harry Potter probably would feel right at home here.

A new exhibit pairs an unusual subject -- dragons and other fantastic creatures -- with an unlikely location: a science museum. "Mythic Creatures: Dragons, Unicorns and Mermaids" opens Saturday at the American Museum of Natural History in New York and runs through Jan. 6

The exhibit at one of the world's pre-eminent science museums looks at how people have come up with all kinds of myths and stories to account for things they did not understand.

"Across cultures and throughout time, these creatures are what people dreamed up as a way of interpreting and making sense of the strange and often mindboggling but real wonders of the natural world," said Ellen Futter, president of the museum.

The show waste no time. At the entrance is a model of a huge dragon.

Other displays include a huge bird known in mythology as a roc, and the enormous head of a kraken, a fearsome, many-tentacled creature of the deep.

The exhibit shows how cultures around the world came up with such strange, mysterious creatures. Dragons, for instance, can be found both in the East and West, although they are considerably more benevolent in Chinese culture than they are in Europe.

Another section shows how tall tales and exaggeration can lead to the creation of a mythic creature. The exhibit theorizes that the kraken may be based on sightings of the corpses of giant squids, which have been known to wash up on shores. Or that legends about giant men or giant birds might come from people finding fossils and trying to make sense of what kind of creature could have had such large bones.

"Just like analytical science is one way of interpreting the world, myth was a way people interpreted the world up until quite recently," said Mark Norell, co-curator of the show. "If you look at all the mythical creatures ... they do have real underpinnings in biology."

The show was put together with collaborators including The Field Museum in Chicago, the Canadian Museum of Civilization in Gatineau; the Australian National Maritime Museum in Sydney, and the Fernbank Museum of Natural History in Atlanta. It will travel to those locations after closing in New York.

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Also opening this month:

"Frank Stella: Painting Into Architecture," through July 29, and "Frank Stella on the Roof," through Oct. 28, Metropolitan Museum of Art: It is the summer of Stella at the Met. The roof garden show features some of Stella's recent work in stainless steel and carbon fiber, while the companion exhibit looks at some of his architectural efforts.

"Poiret: King of Fashion," through Aug. 5, Metropolitan Museum: Paul Poiret was one of the giants of French fashion, best known for bringing in exotic colors and new silhouettes to women's clothing. He did not limit himself to clothes, though, creating items for a luxury lifestyle including a perfume and household furnishings.

"Embracing Mexico: Mariana Yampolsy, Life and Art," through Aug. 3, The UBS Art Gallery: Yampolsky was born in Chicago, but fell in love with Mexico as a young woman, and stayed there until she died. The show covers decades of her artistic career, as well as the art that influenced her.

"Let Your Motto Be Resistance: African American Portraits," "Biographical Landscape: The Photography of Stephen Shore, 1969-79," "Amelia Earhart: Image and Icon," and "Chim: Photographs by David Seymour/Selections from George Eastman House," through Sept. 9, International Center of Photography: While the subjects are different, these four exhibits showcase the power of photography to capture history.

"Hidden in Plain Sight: Contemporary Photographs from the Collection," through Sept. 3, Metropolitan Museum: This exhibit, featuring about 35 works, shows how photographers have found art in images from everyday life.

"Neo Rauch at the Met: para," through Sept. 23, Metropolitan Museum: German artist Rauch has painted 11 works specifically for this exhibit, the latest in the museum's series on artists in mid-career.

"Summer of Love: Art of the Psychedelic Era," through Sept. 16, Whitney Museum of American Art: This exhibit looks at how the social unrest and change of the 1960s and early 1970s impacted on art, music, film and other fields.
 
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