We think we know them, the cats and dogs so many of us place at the center of our lives.
But if there's one take-away from "In the Company of Cats and Dogs" -- the rich and intriguing new exhibit at the
With flair and freshness,
And for all its initial impression of light-heartedness, "In the Company of Cats and Dogs" offers a smart invitation to reconsider centuries of art from a more nuanced starting point.
Rather than merely present a chronological account of how cats and dogs are portrayed in 3,000 years of art history, Consagra illuminates the more complicated meanings behind why those cats and dogs end up in art to begin with.
And that's relatively new territory.
Art historians heretofore have largely considered the role of cats and dogs in works of art to be of limited symbolic importance -- mere decorations, props even.
Collaborating with several
Organized thematically around psychological, cultural and biological subjects, "In the Company of Cats and Dogs" reveals much about how our treatment of and relationship with animals is really a social construct -- a construct that's changed enormously over the centuries.
By the Enlightenment, though, pet-keeping became more common in European households -- a way for people to demonstrate their reason over and empathy with animals. And that increased empathy was just enough of a psychological foundation to launch greater anthropomorphism, which in turn led to more characterization of dogs and cats in literature and visual culture.
Consagra plumbed the Blanton's collection as well as regional collections to make diverse selections, from an ancient Egyptian sculpture of the cat goddess Bastet to, yes, Internet cat video.
A private alumni collector lent a group of rare prints by Paul Gauguin. And
And culling from another impressive
And no ignoring the Internet either.
In the atrium just outside the exhibit, three monitors screen a selection of cat videos including two by
The exhibit's development has an interesting little backstory.
Consagra was fairly new to the Blanton staff when it was suggested just more than a year ago that she consider organizing a summer exhibit designed to have great popular appeal. Perhaps a dog exhibit for summer 2014?
Though the owner of a beloved hound dog named
Then Consagra was confronted by the cat people on the museum's staff who demanded she include cats as part of the exhibit. She agreed.
After all -- what's the use of prolonging the age-old dogs versus cats tussle?
"In the Company of Cats and Dogs"
Information: 512-471-7324, www.blantonmuseum.org
Some are free, such as the Pooch Parade and events on Thursdays; others included with museum admission.
Perspectives Gallery Talk:
The behavior program manager of the Austin Animal Center discusses the exhibit's human/pet interactions.
A day of dog and cat-themed programs
Bring your dog on a leash and join the "Pooch Parade" around the
Leading researcher in the study of human-animal interactions and author will discuss a variety of ways people relate to cats and dogs.
Nancy Schiesari: "Canine Soldiers"
The filmmaker discusses her forthcoming documentary and shows excerpts from the film that depicts the lives of dogs used in combat zones.
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