website / main menu

ae 1.0 menu

ANIMAL ESTATE regional model homes 1.0: NEW YORK CITY

Commissioned by The Whitney Museum of American Art for The 2008 Whitney Biennial / March 6th - June 1st , 2008 - extended through August 14th / EVENTS: weekly Sundown Schoolhouse: Guided Estate Tours / weekly performances of ANIMAL SCORES / performance on March 22, 2008 of ANIMAL DRILLS / DOWNLOADS: VIDEO of K8 Hardy's performance as the Bobcat / Whitney Biennial Focus VIDEO / POSTCARDS with scores of animal movements

Animal Estates were created for following New York City animal clients in front of the museum, at the entry, and in the sculpture court. Four hundred years ago they lived at this very location, the corner of East 75th and Madison Avenue. (Six of these Animal Estates were dontated to Swindler Cove Park at the northern tip of Manhattan, where the animals will finally be able to move into their model homes).



1.01 Bald Eagle {Haliaeetus leucocephalus} - 10 foot diameter nest
1.02 Barn Owl {Tyto alba} - nest box on a telephone pole
1.03 Wood Duck {Aix sponsa} - nest box over the pond
1.04 Purple Martin {Progne subis} - multiple gourd-homes
1.05 Big Brown Bat {Eptesicus fuscus} - bat house
1.06 Mason Bee {Osmia lignaria} - trap nests
1.07 Opossum {Didelphus virginiana} - rock pile
1.08 Northern Flying Squirrel {Glaucomys sabrinus} - nest box
1.09 Bobcat {Lynx rufus} - a hollow tree trunk
1.10 Eastern Tiger Salamander {Ambystoma tigrinum} - burrow
1.11 Eastern Mud Turtle {Kinosternon subrubrum} - sunning platform
1.12 Beaver {Castor Canadensis} - pond and lodge



What was the block southeast of Madison Avenue and East 75th Street (where the Whitney Museum currently stands) like before European colonists arrived over 400 years ago?

In 1609 the Upper East Side was clothed in woods, mainly oak-tulip tree forest in the valley bottoms and oak-hickory forest on the hilltops.  American chestnut (Castanea dentata) formed more than 50% of the tree basal area.  The forest understory was relatively open, cleared by periodic, low intensity fires lit by the Lenape, an Algonquin cultural group, that lived, hunted and fished on Manhattan Island for hundreds of years prior to Hudson’s arrival.  The block where the Whitney Museum would one day be built spanned a low hill about 60 feet above sea level, that sloped down slightly from the corner of 75th and Madison Avenue, to a substantial stream that flowed out of Central Park along the line of the future 74th Street; another stream flowed southwest approximately along Park Avenue.  Wildlife species which might have made this block their home 400 years ago include white-tailed deer (Odocoileus virginianus), black bear (Ursus americanus), hairy woodpecker (Picoides  villosus), long-eared owl (Asio otus), timber rattlesnake (Crotalus horridus), redback salamander (Plethodon ciereus), and perhaps brook trout (Salvelinus fontinalis) and beaver (Castor canadensis). 

Hydrology - There was a marsh headwater stream flowing eastward in the southeast corner of the block
Soils – 2/3 of block was underlain by Charlton-Sutton soil, 1/3 by Hollis soil
Ecological communities – 2/3 of the block was oak-tulip forest, 1/3 was oak-hickory forest, and the marsh headwater stream mentioned above traveled through the oak-tulip forest.



Each Animal Estate was identified with a bronze plaque mounted on the wall overlooking the Whitney Museum Sculpture Court:

Animal Estate Model Homes 1.0: New York City Before Marcel Breuer’s Whitney Museum of American Art, we had a beaver pond. Over 400 years ago we lived around a marsh headwater stream in this very location. We are the animal clients for this premiere edition of Animal Estates: beaver, bat, bee, bird, bobcat, duck, eagle, opossum, owl, salamander, squirrel, and turtle. We have returned for a three month residency in our new development of model homes. As a property owning human, you too can construct a development of Animal Estates. Other editions are coming soon to Austin, Baltimore, Cambridge, Portland, San Francisco, and Utrecht in 2008.

AE 1.01: Bald Eagle {Haliaeetus leucocephalus} We are the symbol for the U.S.A. and we are at the top of the food chain!  As a nursery for our eggs and eaglets, my mate and I build a nest, or aerie,  near the water, high up in a tree, or even on a cliff. We start with rotated layers of triangular branch patterns and then line the interior with moss, pine needles or grass to make it comfortable for our eaglets. We return every year and keep adding branches and twigs. Our nest can get up to ten feet in diameter and weigh as much as two tons!

AE 1.02 Barn Owl {Tyto alba} We will nest in almost any protected natural or human-made cavity that is big enough for our family. You can also build an Animal Estate for us on your property like the one above you. We have an appetite for the animals that you don’t like. I was once spotted bringing sixteen mice, three gophers, a rat and a squirrel to my Estate in the span of just 25 minutes!

AE 1.03 Wood Duck {Aix sponsa} We are highly secretive about the location of our homes. We favor tree cavities above water, such as our Estate here on the beaver lodge, so that our young have a soft landing on their first leap. If you make an Animal Estate for us, you could install a metal sheet on the post to protect us from predators. And how about filling the bottom with three inches of sawdust, so that our eggs do not roll around?

AE 1.04 Purple Martin {Progne subis} We are native Americans. When European starlings arrive, they  fill our nesting cavities with materials blocking our entrance, destroy our eggs, corner us in our homes and even peck us to death. Every fall we head for South America, but the starlings stick around, claiming our nesting cavities. We are now entirely dependant on human supplied housing east of the Rockies. We especially like the hollow white gourds you see below.

AE 1.05 Big Brown Bat {Eptesicus fuscus} We love to roost in spaces that humans have made: sewers, barns, mines, and maybe even the wall cavities in your house. Perhaps you would like to have us around because we eat so many insects that you consider pests? If you plan to build us a New York Estate like the one on the post below, orient it to the south and paint it black to absorb heat from the sun.

AE 1.06 Mason Bee {Osmia lignaria} We are gentle bees. We are good pollinators. Are you growing food? Perhaps you should have us around! Our Estate is a grid of holes in wood. Trap nests! Each cell is filled with nectar and pollen. An egg is laid inside, from which larva hatches. It feeds on the supplies. It spins a cocoon, from which the next bee emerges, ready to start over. All of this in our 3/8” diameter Estates!

AE 1.07 Opossum {Didelphus virginiana} I have fifty teeth, a pouch, opposable thumbs on my hind feet and a prehensile tail I can use to carry materials to build my home. As a  human, you may want me around to dine on the cockroaches, rats and mice that you detest. I am also known as “"Nature's Sanitation Engineer." I can live anywhere from a burrow to  a hollow log or even a rock pile, like my Estate below.

AE 1.08 Northern Flying Squirrel {Glaucomys sabrinus} We make our nests out of whatever we can find: small twigs, leaves, lichen, moss, found fur, or feathers, bark and even newspaper. Sometimes we share our homes in groups up to eight. Our females build natal nests of finely shredded material that can be seven times larger than the nests built by the bachelor. We also like tree hollows, which is what this nestbox Estate approximates.

AE 1.09 Bobcat {Lynx rufus} I am solitary. I try to avoid other bobcats unless it is mating season. I mostly hunt at night. Favored meals include insects, rodents, deer, and antelope. I mark my territory with claw marks, urine or feces. I use a cave or a thicket as a nursery for my young. I especially like a hollow log for my den, as you see suggested here in my Estate that is leaning on the beaver lodge.

AE 1.10 Eastern Tiger Salamander {Ambystoma tigrinum} I spend most of my life underground. I need to stay humid and moist. I can dig my own burrow or use one already made by another animal. I will dig down as far as two feet. This allows me to escape extreme temperatures. I emerge from my burrow on a rainy night in February or March. I migrate back to the breeding pond where I was born.

AE 1.11 Eastern Mud Turtle {Kinosternon subrubrum} I am the rarest species of turtle in New York. You may find me in fresh or brackish water, marshes, small ponds, wet ditches, fields, and offshore islands. I winter in a burrow below the frost line, one to three feet deep in mud, sand or dry leaves. I like to sun myself on a log or on my floating Estate like the one you see here.

AE 1.12 Beaver {Castor Canadensis} You will find me on the official seal for your city. Your early economy depended on me, my fur and castor oil. Before you arrived, I was one of the most vital residents of this island of Manhattan. With my industrious nature and powers of construction I changed the landscape and created habitats for other animals. I take down trees, and even make canals to move them to the water. I build dams, make ponds, and live in a lodge like the one you see here.



New York Public Library, Urban Neighbors
New York Natural Heritage Program
New York State Department of Environmental Conservation and here
Cornell Lab of Ornithology



Commissioned by the Whitney Museum of American Art , for the 2008 Whitney Biennial

Curators: Shamim Momin & Henriette Huldisch

Biennial coordinator: Kim Conaty

Curatorial assistants: Diana Kamin & Elizabeth Lovero

Landscape ecology consultants: Eric Sanderson & Markley Boyer, Mannahatta Project, Wildlife Conservation Society

Aquatic technician: Noel Rose, Anchor Aquarium Service

Eagles nest assistance: Richard DiBella, Stacy Wakefiled, and Adriana Magana

Movement artists: Felicia Ballos, Layla Childs, Alex Escalante, Levi Gonzalez, Paige Gratland, Michael Helland, Jmy Leary, Daniel Linehan, Jennifer Monson, Kayvon Pourazar, Anna Sperber, and Flora Wiegmann.

Estate tour guides: Deborah Simon, Erica Browne, Jeremy Feinberg, Elizabeth Johnson, Emily Lacy, Margaret Mittelbach, Michael Crewdson, Damon Rich, Eric Sanderson, K8 Hardy, Jennifer Monson, Emily Scott

photographer of movement score portraits: Nicolas Wagner / model: Tobias Hayduk

Research & assistance: Stephanie Kern (Los Angeles)

Project assistant & coordination: Erica Browne (New York)