There’s an Elephant in the Room (and a Giant Blue Snail in the Garden)

For the past 25 years, the Milan-based art group Cracking Art has been changing the way the public thinks about throwaway plastic with its larger-than-life art installations in Europe and North America.

The collective creates monumental animal sculptures from recycled soda bottles and other plastics, displaying its work alongside information about environmental issue and recycling. But don’t expect dopey garden gnomes or cutesy woodland creatures. Think outsize red elephants and crocodiles and giant snails that stand upwards of 12-feet tall.

Until the beginning of September, Cracking Art will display its bold animal sculptures at two locations in America: In Nashville, Tennessee’s Cheekwood Estate & Garden, and in Indiana’s Newfields complex, which includes the Indianapolis Museum of Art and its 52-acre botanical garden. At Cheekwood, meerkats stand at attention on a balcony, brightly colored frogs bob in a fountain, and dozens of bears populate the meditative Japanese Pine-Mist garden. At the Summer Wonderland exhibit at Newfields, visitors encounter swallows flying overhead in the Beer Garden and hundreds of animals ranging from a pack of yellow wolves to big, blue bunnies.

Can’t make it to either of those locations this summer? Cracking Art’s recycled-plastic penguins have become a whimsical (and Instagrammable) symbol of the stylish 21C Museum Hotels, which has properties in destinations like Cincinnati; Kansas City, Missouri; and Bentonville, Arkansas, among others.  

Art collectors Laura Lee Brown and Steve Wilson, the founders of 21C, first spotted Cracking Art’s Red Penguins displayed around Venice at the 2005 Biennial. The couple purchased a flock for their first hotel, which opened in Louisville, Kentucky, in 2006, and now have penguins in signature colors at all seven of their properties nationwide. “People couldn’t help but interact with the sculptures at the opening,” says Wilson. “Guests would move the penguins around, pose for photos with them, take them to dinner, and sit them outside their rooms. They’ve become emblematic of our mission to make thought-provoking contemporary art more accessible to the public.” To learn more, visit crackingart.com.

There’s an Elephant in the Room (and a Giant Blue Snail in the Garden)