The Children's Museum gets surreal 

click to enlarge Luis Rey, "Big Teeth"
  • Luis Rey, "Big Teeth"

Big Brutal Teeth. Big Burly Bodies. Bizarre and Boisterous Heads. Just three stations in the Children's Museum's newly revamped dinosaur gallery, whose group show, The Big, Bad and Bizarre, opens Sept. 21.

The gallery reboot draws exclusively from the John Lazendorf Collection, one of the world's largest collections of paleo art. Lazendorf, a Chicago hairdresser, began collecting paleo art in the '90s and amassed a 500-plus piece collection by 2000 (all housed in his one-bedroom apartment). He sold the collection to the Children's Museum in 2001.

Spanish surrealist Luis Rey is the only artist to get his own station in the show: the "Bright, Bold Artwork of Luis Rey." Rey's mixed-media paleo illustrations - created using, at turns, acrylic, ink, airbrush, colored pencil and digital media - are true to the tenets of first-wave surrealism, filtering sensibilities of hyperrealism through a dream-like color palette and milieu.

Anyone who was once eight years old can probably relate to Rey's under-the-skin bonding with ancient reptiles. And as any eight-year-old film buff might notice, there's an undeniable and apt cinematic quality to his illustrations - one thinks of the silent Lost World, the Rite of Spring segment from Fantasia, Jurassic Park.

click to enlarge Luis Rey
  • Luis Rey

Yet, Rey goes beyond cinema's treatment of dinosaurs, restoring buoyancy and life to the prehistoric world. Rey's vivid imagination recently won him the esteemed commission of illustrating Dr. Robert T. Bakker's update (and homage) to the 1960 Big Golden Book of Dinosaurs (to be released Sept. 24).

Speaking of cinema, Rey has been endorsed by legendary surrealist filmmaker Alejandro Jodorowsky (El Topo, The Holy Mountain): "The Chaos of Luis Rey is the collective soul of the human race. His form of expression surges from the disorder. Each of Rey's works is a cataclysm... pierced by the horns of a greedy past that refuses to die. Rey paints himself a dinosaur's head because it is more his face than the white skin mask that his parents imposed on him."

But if Rey's art works in a surrealist mode that could attract viewers who know what that description means, it also has pedagogical value for the museum's core audience, according to Dallas Evans, the Children's Museum's Chief Curator of Natural Science and Paleontology: "Through Rey's guiding and imaginative art, children can use clues from science to help them understand what these creatures ate, how they lived, and how they survived. Rey has captured this. His genius lies in bringing these ancient creatures to life with bright colors. Paleontology is a good gateway to science, so children can move onto other sciences as well, keeping it new, constantly evolving, and constantly changing."

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