It’s been an owlful year, we can all agree. So it came as no surprise when the 2020 Rockefeller Center Christmas tree touched down—a scraggly, lopsided, thin-looking thing that social media quickly compared to Charlie Brown’s sad sapling.
The arrival of the 75-foot-tall, 45-foot-wide Norway spruce at Rock Center set off a flurry of comments positing the tree as a metaphor for 2020. Maybe it just needs a little time to settle, people suggested. After all, it had traveled some 200 miles, cramped and tightly bound on its journey. And then, something incredible happened to make us all give a hoot. A baby owl was discovered amid the asymmetrical branches. It was a Christmas miracle.
In photos posted to Twitter, a man from the transportation team holds the bird in his gloved hands, its beady yellow eyes staring straight into the camera. The saw-whet owl was promptly named Rockefeller, and images circulated of him wrapped in a fluffy orange blanket like a feathered treasure.
This is all very heartwarming, you might be thinking, but what does it have to do with art? Well, among those charmed by the tree-dwelling creature was Canadian-born, New York-based artist Marcel Dzama, who, struck by inspiration, quickly rendered his own artistic homage to the owl and shared it on Instagram. But his feelings about the bird are slightly more complicated than pure Christmas cheer.
“This drawing (Oh dear Mother of Indulgence) and the story of the Rockefeller Owl can be taken as a metaphor of mankind’s abuse of mother nature and its indulgence on everything she has for a disposable celebration,” the artist told Artnet News via email. “Just like the tradition of cutting down a tree to decorate it and throw it away the next month.”
The owl is far from the first time Dzama has responded to current events with art. His Instagram feed is a treasure trove of timely drawings, from a tribute to the late justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg to a watercolor of President Trump with a golf club painted directly onto the front page of the .
“On the political landscape I do feel cautiously optimistic, like this could be the beginning of a turn in society away from these autocrats & their misinformation machines that started to take over in 2016 with Brexit,” Dzama told us. “The confusion is now clear and hopefully most people, who once trusted these conspiracy theories & their social media feeds, have evolved.
I hope this will be the beginning of a more empathetic and intelligent people. But still at this very moment we are in a dangerous time, as we still have a desperate and unstable narcissist in charge of our country who has less than 70 days left in office and is still hell-bent on a scorched-earth policy so he can leave a big mess for his predecessor. A big enough mess that his predecessor will have to spend his whole presidency trying to clean it up.”
At least we have the owl?