Photo © Peter Kuper / Courtesy of NYPL /W.W.Norton

The free exhibition, opening January 7, 2022 at the 42nd Street library, showcases Kuper’s unique drawings of insects interacting with the classic architecture of the Library’s iconic central building and the breathtaking migration of the Monarch butterfly.

This show promises to create a “buzz.”

Award-winning graphic novelist Peter Kuper combines his appreciation of classic architecture with a lifelong fascination with insects in the new exhibition INterSECTS: Where Arthropods and Homo Sapiens Meet, opening January 7, 2022 in the third-floor Stokes Gallery of The New York Public Library’s Stephen A. Schwarzman Building on Fifth Avenue and 42nd Street. More information at nypl.org/intersects.

The free exhibition features Kuper’s intricate drawings of a variety of insects—bees, ants, cicadas, butterflies, silkworms, beetles, dragonflies, and more—flying, crawling, and interacting with the various rooms of the Library’s 42nd Street building. This bug’s-eye view of the building’s Beaux-Arts architectural details illuminates the iconic spaces in a completely original way.

The unusual idea came together in 2020 while Kuper—whose work has appeared in prominent publications around the world, and whose career includes 25 years as MAD magazine’s SPY vs. SPY artist/writer—was the 2020-2021 Jean Strouse Fellow at the Library’s Dorothy and Lewis B. Cullman Center for Scholars and Writers working on the upcoming graphic novel INterSECTS (to be published by W.W. Norton) that focuses on the evolutionary history of insects going back 400 million years and their eventual interaction with homo sapiens. As the 42nd Street building was closed to the public because of the COVID-19 pandemic, Kuper had the unique opportunity to explore the building and its storied rooms while they were virtually empty, and realized that the environment would be a perfect vehicle for his concept. Specifically, the novel will see the history of bugs through their lens as they fly throughout the vacant building investigating the library’s vast collections.

Beyond the architecture Kuper found inspiration among gems in the Library’s research collections, including Maria Sibylla Marian’s 1727 hand-colored etchings and Vladimir Nabokov’s renowned butterfly renderings. Several pieces showcase butterflies in the Library, and additionally, an entire hall—floor to ceiling—is dedicated to a visual depiction of the breathtaking migration of the Monarch butterfly. 

The Nabokov original renderings are currently on display in the Polonsky Exhibition of The New York Public Library’s Treasures on the first floor of the Stephen A. Schwarzman Building. That exhibition is also free, but requires timed ticket reservations at nypl.org/treasures.

“There are roughly 10 quintillion insects on Earth,” said Kuper. “They touch everything we do in our daily lives, our economy, our very survival. Yet most of us barely notice their existence except to swat them away. I have been fascinated with these amazing creatures my whole life, so to be able to do research at the Library investigating them and how they’ve interacted with humans over the centuries was a true passion project. To then have the opportunity to incorporate the Library’s iconic spaces into that artwork is incredibly meaningful. I hope visitors not only enjoy the images and see the Library anew, but they’ll particularly view arthropods through a new lens, and appreciate the beauty and mystery of these tiny giants that are essential to our planet and our lives.”

INterSECTS: Where Arthropods and Homo Sapiens Meet also includes an audio tour—accessible online and via QR code in the gallery—with commentary on individual insects by some of the field’s top experts, including Jessica Ware on dragonflies, Gene Kritsky on cicadas, Michael Engel on bees, Barrett Klein on scarab beetles, and Mark W. Moffett on ants with Mexico’s leading poet/novelist, Homero Aridjis, reading his poem “ A Una Mariposa Monarcha.” The audio talks are accompanied by the insect-inspired music of David Rothenberg. All of this plus downloadable coloring book art will be available on January 7 at nypl.org/intersects.

“The Library’s mission is to connect all people with knowledge and opportunity; in the research libraries, that means preserving and making accessible items that inform and inspire critical thinking and creative interpretation. That’s exactly what Kuper has done: used inspiration from the Library and its collections to generate something new and special that we are delighted to share with the public. We hope visitors will be buzzing about it, and then be inspired to visit the Treasures exhibition, as well,” said Declan Kiely, the Library’s director of special collections and exhibitions, and the lead curator of The Polonsky Exhibition of The New York Public Library’s Treasures.

The exhibition is on view until August 13, 2022. As of December 2021, all visitors must wear masks inside of the Stephen A. Schwarzman Building.

Peter Kuper’s illustrations and comics have appeared in newspapers and magazines around the world. He is a regular contributor to The New Yorker, The New York Times, The Nation, Charlie Hebdo, and MAD magazine where he has written and illustrated SPY vs. SPY in every issue since 1997. He is the co-founder and editor of World War 3 Illustrated, a political graphics magazine that has given a forum to political artists for over 40 years. He has produced over two dozen books, including The System, Diario de Oaxaca, Ruins (winner of the 2016 Eisner Award) and adaptations of many of Franz Kafka’s works into comics including The Metamorphosis and Kafkaesque. His latest book is an adaptation of Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness. He has lectured around the world and teaches comics courses at the School of Visual Arts and Harvard University.

About The New York Public Library

For 125 years, The New York Public Library has been a free provider of education and information for the people of New York and beyond. With 92 locations—including research and branch libraries—throughout the Bronx, Manhattan, and Staten Island, the Library offers free materials, computer access, classes, exhibitions, programming and more to everyone from toddlers to scholars, and has seen record numbers of attendance and circulation in recent years. The New York Public Library receives approximately 16 million visits through its doors annually and millions more around the globe who use its resources at www.nypl.org. To offer this wide array of free programming, The New York Public Library relies on both public and private funding. Learn more about how to support the Library at nypl.org/support. 

Photos © Peter Kuper / Courtesy of NYPL /W.W.Norton