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Probing Questions, Facts, and
Observations for Teaching About
Sandy Skoglund's "Fox Games," 1989
Environments, Natural and Human
Department of Art Education
Ohio State University
Getty Center for Education in the Arts
The following are prompts for getting learners involved in discussions of
"Fox Games" by Sandy Skoglund. The prompts are meant to help you and
your students engage in inquiry based art criticism, especially
interpretive criticism, of Skoglund's work so that they learn more about
art criticism, the work of a contemporary artists, and contemporary art in
general. Please try these activities yourself and with your students,
invent others, and tell all of us about what you are doing. We hope that
you will share your and your students' best comments and reactions by
sending an e-mail message to ArtsEdNet Talk, the e-mail discussion
Foxes and the Human Environment
Sandy Skoglund considered using wolves for the image "Fox Games"
instead of foxes. Seeking "some kind of four-legged wild animal,"
Skoglund said she chose the fox because it has symbolic resonance for
What associations does the fox bring to mind?
What is "foxiness," for example?
Can you think of sayings referring to foxes, such as "like a fox in a
What cultural meanings do you associate with the fox?
Do you know of cultures with different associations and attitudes
toward the fox?
If you were to redo this installation using wolves, how would your
How many wolves would you use? What would they be doing?
Would they be in a pack?
Would there be a "lone wolf?"
What associations do wolves share with foxes? How do
connotations of "fox" differ from connotations of "wolf?"
A Critic's View
Arlene Raven associates "Fox Games" with fox-like qualities as
"cunning, crafty, sly and deceitful."
Do you find Skoglund's foxes to be sly, crafty, tricky, smart, cunning,
If the foxes are playing a game, what might be its rules?
Will there be winners and losers?
Are the foxes competing with each other or with the people?
What will the foxes win?
What could the foxes lose?
If the people are playing a game with the foxes, what are they to win
Are the people playing a separate game of their own? What might be
the rules of their game?
A gendered perspective for older learners to consider: Females are
sometimes referred to as "foxes" or "foxy ladies." Female foxes are
termed "vixens." According to Webster's definition, "vixen" can also refer
to an ill-tempered female.
Arlene Raven observes, "In 'Fox Games" (1989), red foxes jump and
hide everywhere in a dining room where, at a table in the rear, a waiter
serves a seated man and woman... The association of foxes with foxy
females makes Skoglund's dinner theater altogether sheathed with the
Raven comments upon the red-hot femininity associated with the
foxes, but she does not comment upon the staid older female in the
installation. What does this contrast offer to your interpretation of the
"Fox Games" with red foxes, "Fox Games" with gray foxes: In one
version of "Fox Games," Skoglund reversed the colors and made gray
foxes in a red dining room. Would gray foxes change Raven's
interpretation of "a dinner theater with the red-hot feminine"?
Fascinating Fox Facts:
Foxes do not live in packs as do wolves.
A male fox controls a specific territory and three to four females.
The male fox supplies the female and young with food.
Play is important in the lives of fox cubs.
Foxes are most active at night.
Does any of this information bear on your interpretation of "Fox
The Ecology of Urban Foxes web site
(http://drycas.club.cc.cmu.edu/%7Efurrball/urbanfox.html) has much
detailed information about urban foxes and their ways. Search this site
and look for correlations between information about foxes and
Skoglund's fictional installation.
Foxes and the Natural Environment
An environmental perspective
"Fox Games" might raise social issues about relationships between
modern urban society and nature. Are these territorial issues? Consider
Humans are the primary enemy of foxes.
A Dublin, Ohio high school student critiqued "Fox Games" as "humans
overtaking the foxes' natural habitat and building cities where they used
Although they are rarely seen, many foxes live successfully in the
suburbs and in urban areas, although many are killed by cars or by
Fascinating Fox Fact
Foxes are color blind and live in a monochromatic world of black, white,
There is a fox fur draped over the back of the woman's chair.
What is the contemporary attitude toward wearing fur?
How does the woman's fox fur function in "Fox Games"?
Is it a moral statement?
Is it a humorous note?
Is it a subtle statement?
Is it too subtle?
Is it too obvious?
Fascinating Fox Fact
Foxes have finely honed senses of hearing and smell.
Who is hunting whom?
Beginning in the eighteenth century, foxes became the targets of an
English sport, the fox hunt. Oscar Wilde, the 19th century Irish poet,
described fox hunting as "the activity of the unspeakable in pursuit of the
A college student interpreted "Fox Games" as a power reversal: "People
hunt foxes, but in this picture it's like a reversal of power."
A third-grade student believes that in Skoglund's world, animals are in
control rather than humans: "The humans look like they are being tamed."
Are the foxes threatening?
Art critic Eleanor Heartney considers the 42 squirrels in "Gathering
Paradise" as "the invasion of an army" that mocks "the suburbanite's
dream of order and, with it, all of our fantasies of mastery and control."
Would you interpret the 23 foxes in "Fox Games" as an invading army?
What connections do you see between "Fox Games" and "Gathering
A fourth-grade student sees no point in having the humans in the scene
at all. "They are still life. It looks like they don't have a life, like dead
people. They look like wax museum people."
A first-grade student believes that the foxes can see the people but the
people can't see them. Skoglund views "Fox Games" as two realities,
two worlds existing simultaneously, with the foxes more or less floating
through the human's world.
Skoglund does not agree with interpretations of "Fox Games" and her
other installations that see the unresponsive human figures in the
installations as unnatural. From her observations, this is normal human
behavior. People, Skoglund asserts, spend much of their time not looking
at each other.
Fascinating Fox Facts
Foxes exhibit an extensive vocabulary of body language.
Foxes stalking small prey can remind human observers of cats catching
The fox's voice is a long drawn out chilling howl.
Foxes have great mental agility.
Naturalist Keith Graham observes that foxes are often misunderstood
and remarks that in the eyes of many, they are members of the "animal
Would you describe Skoglund's foxes as criminal-like? Why or why
Skoglund's Processes in Making "Fox Games"
Skoglund produces her installations over periods of around six months.
During this time, she plays numerous roles. These were the roles
Skoglund played while making "Fox Games."
Role: Artist as Researcher
She investigated foxes. She studied their gestures, anatomy, and visual
characteristics, primarily from books. She sought scientific knowledge,
and especially an overall feeling for the creatures. She now describes
the foxes as cartoon-like and conjectures that this quality derives form
her childhood experience of animated films.
Role: Artist as Sculptor
Skoglund sculpted 26 life-size foxes, 5-6 feet long and weighing about
five pounds each. She made fox molds from plastalene, an oil-based clay
used by automobile designers for model making. She created various
poses to suggest leaping, pouncing, watching, and other fox-like
activities. She cast the foxes in plaster, painted them gray, and then
repainted them red for a second version of the installation.
Role: Artist as Set Designer
She purchased 8 restaurant tables and 16 restaurant chairs. She made a
last minute purchase of the chandelier to fill space at the top of the
installation. She painted the furniture, walls, floor, and ceiling with a
matte pigment. She arranged the set with foxes and furniture. She had a
difficult time organizing the large foxes in the small set space. She hung
some foxes with heavy duty invisible wire to make it look like they are
floating and moving through space. She placed other foxes on the floor,
tabletops, and chairs.
Role: Artist as Prop Person
She purchased and painted bread baskets, bread loaves, bread sticks,
tablecloths and napkins, salt and pepper shakers, bud vases, roses, a
waiter's tray, and wine glasses.
Role: Artist as Movie Director
She selected actors: a male and a female friend and her father-in law.
She scripted the action: The waiter serves a seated couple in the rear of
a restaurant. The waiter stands next to the female and the male sits
across from the female. The male drinks from a wine glass, and the
female and waiter make eye contact. No one looks directly at the camera.
Role: Artist as Costume Designer
She dressed the couple and the waiter in gray attire. The couple is
well-dressed and the female has a fox fur draped on the back of her
chair. The female wears a gray wig.
Role: Artist as Photographer
She experimented with lighting the set and made Polaroid photographs
for about two weeks without the actors present. After she finalized the
lighting, she positioned the actors and shot the scene with an 8"x 10"
view camera. She made about 60 shots over four hours. She had large,
47" x 60", Cibachrome prints made of the installation.
Role: Artist as Art Handler
She created and shipped "Fox Games" to the Centre Georges Pompidou
in Paris, France and to the Denver Museum of Art in Colorado.