Bjørn Okholm Skaarup: Zoodiac


PRESS RELEASE: Bjørn Okholm Skaarup: Zoodiac, Apr 12 - Sep  1, 2024

Cavalier Ebanks Galleries is delighted to present a public art exhibition of Danish sculptor Bjørn Okholm Skaarup’s Zoodiac (2018) in the garden behind 197 Greenwich Avenue, Greenwich, Connecticut. Situated just around the block from the gallery, the outdoor installation serves as a complement to Skaarup’s solo exhibition, A Mythical Menagerie, at Cavalier Gallery in New York City. Zoodiac will be on view through summer 2024.


The Zodiac cycle – “ζoδιακός Κύκλος” in Greek – translates as the “circle of little animals.” While its origins are Babylonian, or perhaps even older, the Zodiac’s twelve constellations and associated symbols survive from ancient Greek mythology. Zoodiac, a suite of animalesque bronze sculptures, returns this tradition to its source and projects it into the present. As a group, this circle of animals—including a few humans—surrounds infinite time and space.


Aquarius symbolizes the king god Zeus’s cupbearer, Ganymede—a Trojan youth, whom a giant eagle carried to the gods’ home on Mount Olympus. Ganymede brewed a life-giving elixir of mead and ambrosia there, which pleased the gods so much that they granted him immortality. He is shown here as an irresistible mixologist, securing his place among the stars.


Pisces depicts two intertwined fish, a cod and a salmon: Aphrodite, the goddess of ideal love, and her son Eros, the god of sexual desire. They transformed themselves to escape the sea monster, Typhoon, and now search the sea for treasure and pleasure, swimming apart and coming together again.


Aries is the headstrong ram, who tried to rescue Phrixos and Helle, the Boetian prince and princess, from their evil stepmother. While he carried them through the air, Helle fell into the Hellespont (which bears her name), but Phrixos arrived unharmed. He sacrificed the brave ram and hid its golden fleece. Here the Aries is shown as a battering ram decorated with great horns, capable of clearing every obstacle, and with the heraldic Order of the Golden Fleece.


Taurus commemorates the mighty bull – Zeus, in disguise – which abducted the Phoenician princess Europa, and brought her to the continent, which now bears her name. Here, he is a bull in a china shop, stubbornly charging through until everything is broken, but he can also be a refined and gentle creature, whose curly locks and big, beautiful eyes led Europa to crown him with garlands.


Gemini refers to the twins, Castor and Pollux, born from Zeus’s seduction of Leda, while he was disguised as a swan. The brothers were flighty horsemen, always seeking new and varied adventures. When Castor was killed, Pollux could not continue without his other half, and gave his own life to join him as an immortal in the sky.


Cancer incarnates the giant crab, summoned by Zeus’s wife, Hera, to avenge her husband’s notorious infidelity. In her frustration she sent the crab to attack Hercules, Zeus’s child by another mother, during one of his Twelve Labours. Hercules crushed the crab, and Hera placed it in the sky—a constellation without bright stars, to obscure her defeat.


Leo immortalizes the proud Nemean Lion, whose pelt was impenetrable, except by its own claws and teeth. As one of his Twelve Labours, Hercules wrestled the lion to death, then skinned it with its own teeth and wore the fur as armour. Zeus commemorated his son’s victory with a constellation in the shape of a lion, whose brightest star is Regulus (Little King), in honor of the monarch of the animals.


Virgo is associated with Demeter, the goddess of grain and agriculture, whose daughter Persephone was abducted by the underworld king Hades. When Persephone vanished, Demeter left the earth bare and uncultivated. When she returned, the crops grew and blossomed. Virgo itself is equally systematic: the constellation disappears during the cold months and returns in the summer sky.


Libra represents the only inanimate sign in the zodiac, and is a comparatively new addition, from Roman times. The scale balancing good against evil, however, dates to earlier Egyptian and Mesopotamian civilizations. Here, a group of mice are climbing on a merchant’s scale—half of them playing on the good side, the other half tipping it toward the bad, but in vain.


Scorpio illustrates the intense, stinging scorpion, sent by Artemis, the goddess of the hunt, to attack and kill the foolhardy hunter Orion. It is shown here on a Roman war machine, aptly named the Scorpio, catapulting itself into the night sky.


Sagittarius celebrates Chiron, the wise centaur (half-man, half-horse), who became a renowned archer, healer, and teacher of the Homeric hero Achilles. Chiron was accidentally killed by a poison arrow, during a feast of centaurs, and died in the arms of Achilles. Zeus immortalized the gentle archer with his own constellation.


Capricorn depicts the goat-headed god Pan, whose lower half was transformed into a scaly fish during an escape from the monster Typhon. As he learns to navigate both land and sea – the physical and intellectual worlds – two paper boats come floating past him.


About the Artist

Bjørn Okholm Skaarup was born in Rudkøbing, Denmark in 1973. From 1994 to 2004, Skaarup was an artist at the Danish National Museum, Copenhagen, before moving to Florence and receiving a PhD from the European University Institute in 2009. While in Florence, he studied the work of Renaissance sculptors Donatello, Cellini, and Giambologna, learning the vanishing art of large-scale bronze casting. He also wrote and illustrated books on history, archaeology, and anatomy.

In 2012, Skaarup was commissioned by the Koldinghus Museum, Kolding, a former Danish royal residence, to create four large reliefs depicting scenes from the life of Christian IV of Denmark. Skaarup was given his first solo U.S. museum exhibition at the Bruce Museum in Greenwich, Connecticut, in 2015. That same year, the Collectivité of St. Barth acquired a suite of ten animal sculptures for public display throughout the island. In 2020, Skaarup completed a portrait bust of Benjamin Ferencz (1920–2023), the last chief prosecutor of the Nuremberg Trials, which was donated to the Nuremberg Palace of Justice on Ferencz’s 100th birthday.

Bjørn Okholm Skaarup lives and works in New York City. He is a member of the Royal British Society of Sculptors.