An aloof cat contemplates the purpose of art in society; dripping-wet otterhounds partake in a moment of respite from their midday hunt; a small black cat nestles into the chest of composer Igor Stravinsky; a menacing dog leaps onto the hood of a car in modern-day suburbia. Scenes like these, reflecting the historically fluid roles of our favorite pets, make up the Blanton Museum of Art’s newest exhibition, In the Company of Cats and Dogs.
Professors from the University of Texas departments of Law, Psychology, Art History, and American Studies joined Senior Curator Francesca Consagra in an intensive year of research for the exhibit, which examines the various roles played by cats and dogs throughout history from biological, psychological, and social viewpoints.
Among the various pieces featured are rare prints by Paul Gauguin, Egyptian sculptures dating from the 700 to 300 B.C.E. time frame, striking photographs by Henri Cartier-Bresson, and a rare copy of the first published edition of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland.
A magnificent still life by Dutch painter Jan Weenix, in which the furs are painted in photographic precision, introduces the exhibit’s hunting section. Equally disarming but stylistically disparate is Radioactive Cats, a cibachrome print by Sandy Skoglund of a bleak industrial room teeming with neon green cats. The exhibit draws to a close with three high-definition TV screens displaying the ubiquitous YouTube cat video, whimsically bringing us back to today’s social media-centric culture.
Blanton staff members expect the exhibit, on view through September 21st, to draw sizable crowds due to its rich content and wide accessibility. Consisting of over 160 works representing 33 centuries, In the Company of Cats and Dogs represents a broad range of cultures and artistic movements. The galleries are painted in beautiful, hand-selected hues to correspond with the array of themes represented, preparing the visitor to view the works through a new lens. The exhibition features sections relating to religion, mythology, hunting, herding, literature, morality, abandonment, aggression, and domesticity.
Consagra explains that “artists are the great observers of life around them,” and recent research has steadily been confirming their observations about animals. For instance, several of the objects on display depict convergence theory, the tendency of humans and their pets to resemble each other over time. Others use cats and dogs as symbols of class, religion, emotion, and virtue.
Consagra believes that animals are “underappreciated in art and regarded as props instead of cues.” Regarding animals as cues fosters discovery and, by extension, new ways of understanding art. People from all walks of life, from the child to the intellectual, will be engaged and inspired by In the Company of Cats and Dogs.
Museum hours are Tuesday-Friday, 10:00 a.m.-5:00 p.m., Saturday 11:00 a.m.-5:00 p.m., and Sunday 1:00 p.m.-5:00 p.m. Admission is $9 for adults, $7 for seniors, $5 for college students with valid ID and youth (13-21), and free for children 12 & under, Blanton members, and current UT faculty, students, & staff. 200 East MLK (MLK at Congress). For more information & related events visit http://blantonmuseum.org/