“World’s Largest Bronze Gorilla” Lands in Connecticut

Published May 2024

Children have been joyously climbing the 5,000-pound sculpture, which has been reclining on the grounds of Greenwich’s Bruce Museum since Earth Day.

GREENWICH — A permanent 5,000-pound gorilla sculpture is the biggest thing to happen to Greenwich, Connecticut, since Congress passed President Trump’s Tax Cuts and Jobs Act in 2017.

But this ape is never bored. Children have been joyously scrambling onto “King Nyani (BIG)” (2021), a 23-foot-long, 8-and-a-half-foot-tall primate, who has been reclining on the grounds of the Bruce Museum near its entrance since he arrived wrapped in black plastic via flatbed truck on Earth Day, April 22.

Museum officials are calling Nyani, whose name means “gorilla” in Swahili, the “world’s largest bronze gorilla sculpture.” That appears likely, since we haven’t been able to find one taller or longer. 

Either way, Nyani is attracting visitors well beyond the Gold Coast.

“He got us on the front page of the Greenwich Time, where it was its most read article,” Mary Ann Lendenmann, Bruce Museum volunteer program manager, told Hyperallergic. “People were coming by in droves to take selfies. It fits with our museum’s theme of art and science.”

Nyani is one of three editions cast by public artists Gillie and Marc Schattner, who were inspired by an affectionate family of silverbacks they saw on a recent visit to Uganda and wanted to raise awareness about the critically endangered species and change the narrative of raging, vengeful beasts seen in movies such as King Kong and Planet of the Apes.

Unlike those Hollywood icons, Nyani is less interested in world domination or budget-bloated sequels than in spreading the message of environmental conservation. He chilled at Bella Abzug Park in Hudson Yards three years ago, while another triplet ape sculpture resides on permanent display at the Brookfield Zoo in Brookfield, Illinois. The sculpture has so far been better received than some of the other projects undertaken by the Schattners, who were the subject of controversy when their 900-pound “Dogman With Apple” artwork proposal was rejected by New York City’s Chinatown community in 2018.

Nyani is expected to relax in Greenwich thanks to an anonymous donor’s long-term loan, so there’s plenty of time to monkey around with him. A nearby sign instructs people to “please restrict monkey business and photo ops to King Nyani’s hand,” although not everyone complies.

“Children love to climb up his back. They’re immediately attracted to his hand but some can climb up to his head,” said Rebecca Gillan, museum interim chief operating officer and trustee. “Our security is very mindful of that.”

Once they’re done amusing themselves with their genetic ancestor, visitors can head inside the Bruce Museum to see exhibitions featuring early works by Andy Warhol and a handful of David Hockney’s early poolside paintings. Brooklyn-based artist Tara Donovan’s sculpture is opening on May 12 and Jennifer Angus’s installation of intricate patterns of pinned insects will arrive on June 6. 

Last spring, the museum finished its $67 million expansion, designed by New Orleans architecture firm EskewDumezRipple, doubling its size and tripling its exhibition space. More interactive sculptures pulled from storage will soon join Nyani throughout Bruce Park.

The Bruce retains its mission as a family museum, but not everything on view is for kids. On a back wall in the Warhol exhibition are six abstract “oxidation paintings” that the artist and his assistants created by applying copper-infused paint to paper and then urinating on them.

“We don’t show these to children,” Gillan said. “I don’t think he was widely known for his piss paintings. He was very clever.”

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