Long the purrrview of hobbyists and portraitists to the rich and quirky, cat art went mainstream in 2013, landing at revered institutions like the Metropolitan Museum, White Columns, and the Brooklyn Museum, all the while maintaining the genre’s quirkiness through events like the Active Space’s “Cat Painting Takedown” and a medievalist’s discovery of a set of inky paw prints in a 15-century manuscript. Here and meow, a selection of the most paw-some works and exhibitions of cat art from 2013.
MOST HU-MEOW-NITARIAN CATS: “The Cat Show” at White Columns
Writer, artist, and cat enthusiast Rhonda Lieberman’s “Cat Show” was the runaway hit of the summer and featured feline-inspired work by over 50 artists including Cory Arcangel, Mike Kelley, Barbara Kruger, and Marilyn Minter. During the show’s run, the gallery also played host to real life rescue cats each week (from Social Tees Animal Rescue) that Lieberman named Bruce Meowman, Claws Oldenburg, Frida Kahlico, and, for that purr-formance artist extraordinaire, Meowrina Abramovic. By the end of the exhibition, 25 cats had been adopted. The cats in residence program also continues online. Watch ARTINFO video HERE.
BEST DRESSED KITTIES: The State Hermitage Museum’s Czarist-Style Cat Portrait Series
Though the State Hermitage Museum has long been known for its troupes of feline pest-control cats-in-residence, this year it also commissioned Uzbek artist Eldar Zakirov to create a series of ornate and rich feline portraits based on czarist-era works in the institution’s collection, from a white kitty in a handsome, red court chamber herald’s jacket, to another sporting the smock of a court confectioner.
While the title “Cats and Girls” has a deceptively child-friendly ring to it, the cats in this exhibition are definitely more creepy than cute and likely a disconcerting symbol of Balthus’s pedophilic impulses. Although we were generally pretty put off by this show, we must admit that a lot of people were charmed by the 40 drawings an 11-year-old Balthus made for “Mitsou” a book that tells the true story of finding and losing a beloved stray cat.
MOST FAMOUS CATS: The Second Annual Internet Cat Video Festival at the Walker Art Center
It’s a miracle that the world didn’t end when viral kitties Lil Bub and Grumpy Cat shared the stage at the 2013 Minnesota State Fair, where the Walker Art Center’s second annual Internet Cat Video Festival took place on August 28. Though Grumpy Cat prevailed, taking home the evening’s top honor — which seemed to do nothing to improve his mood — we expect many more internet-famous felines will follow in his paw-steps at future editions of the marquee event on the art world’s cat calendar. Watch ARTINFO video HERE.
MOST CURSED KITTIES: “Divine Felines: Cats of Ancient Egypt” at the Brooklyn Museum
This summer the Brooklyn Museum looked no farther than its own permanent collection to find 30 artifacts depicting domestic cats, lions, and other felines that point to the significance of the cat in ancient Egypt. A gilded sculpture of a lion-headed goddess, a bronze sphinx sculpture of King Sheshenq, and a cast bronze sculpture of a mother cat with four kittens nursing are all on view through December 2014.
MOST SCHOLARLY CAT: 15th-Century Cat’s Paw Prints Found on Medieval Manuscript
In September of 2012, medieval manuscript researcher and University of Sarajevo faculty member Emir O. Filipovi? tweeted a picture of an open 15th-century manuscript very clearly marked with four cat paw prints, but it wasn’t until February 2013 that the image achieved viral status, popping up everywhere from Reddit to Gawker. “A truly positive aspect of the story, beside the obvious worldwide promotion of the State Archives of Dubrovnik,” Filipovi? wrote after achieving viral fame, “is that the document with the paw prints is going to be featured in the Interactive Album of Medieval Paleography, which is maintained by Dr. Marjorie Burghart in Lyon, France.”
CATTIEST CAT ART CONTEST: “Cat Painting Takedown” at The Active Space
The Bushwick gallery and studio complex hosted a competitive cat-painting session on November 24, in which more than 20 artists sought to paint the most fantastic feline they could. The results included a stylin’ tabby sporting a hat and glasses, a kitten posing inside the skull of a saber-toothed tiger, a hybrid cat-bald eagle perched in a treetop, and a pair of tiny kitties smeared in blood after a decadent feast. The works were then auctioned off, with proceeds from the sales benefiting the Brooklyn Animal Resource Coalition.
MOST CONSERVATIVE CAT ARTIST: Pet Portraitist George W. Bush
In addition to the pair of perfectly generic sportraits he painted of his daughter Barbara’s cat Eleanor for her apartment in New York, former U.S. President George W. Bush painted an atrocious image of a cat lying in front of a gaudy wood-paneled backdrop, its protruding front paw poorly foreshortened, and its proportions generally way-off. It’s exactly the type of unimaginative and hapless artwork you’d expect from the man who once said: “You can fool some of the people all the time, and those are the ones you want to concentrate on.”
BEST DISEMBODIED CATS: “Whisker Prints” by Nina Katchadourian
In a one-week residency at the Island Press in St. Louis, Stanford-based artist Nina Katchadourian used actual cat whiskers to make a series of 17 monotype “Whisker Prints.” Using the whiskers as drawing stencils, Katchadourian created unique works that look like purrfect abstractions of cat-like forms.
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