If Clover, my 14-year-old Beagle had not eaten a bag of Milano cookies the night before, she and my white Golden Retriever, Breeze, would have come to a curator-led tour of dOGUMENTA, America’s first art show for canines, held in Downtown L.A. As it was, Wesley, my Granddog, joined me and a small group from ArtTable in a walk-through led by Mica Scanlin and Jessica Dawson, who also curated its first iteration in New York last year. (Rocky, Dawson’s Maltese-Yorkie mix, the third member of the curatorial team, was busy elsewhere). Interactive artwork in a wide range of media by 10 artists, most of them local, were presented.
As an art historian, I have long acknowledged that my critical judgement tends to be suspended and is extremely suspect when there is a dog (or puppy!) in the picture. Apropos of which, articles (like the one linked here) have appeared questioning the artistic validity of pop-up exhibitions that invite audience participation and cater to the selfie culture–and what could be more crowd-pleasing than an art show specifically geared to dog lovers, canine interaction, and dog-centered social media posts?
Is it art? Well, on the one hand it can be declared to be a kind of “art lite,” seen more on the order of a popular entertainment. On the other hand, while being far less grand in scale and intention, it can be viewed as a not-too-distant relation to such recent sell-out, queue-producing attractions as Random International’s Rain Room or Yayoi Kusama’s Infinity Mirror Room, experiential artworks of broad appeal shown in major art institutions nationwide.
All of the works in dOGUMENTA were produced by artists and most fit comfortably within the schema of each artist’s oeuvre. Janne Larsen’s Those We Let In (2018), for example, features pawprints in fired clay of animal shelter and recently rescued dogs hanging on a chain link gate, the latter meant to provoke questions of inclusion and exclusion. Larsen, whose art is grounded in social practice, had previously done a related piece installed on a fence at a women’s shelter that incorporated the handprints of its residents.
Josh Levine’s kingKong (2018) is a giant, iconic Kong dog toy that references both the oversized soft sculptures of Claes Oldenburg and the inflatable sculptures of Paul McCarthy (think McCarthy’s Butt Plug/Tree, 2014). Levine’s sculpture follows in the wake of his career-long preoccupation with animal imagery. Here a visitor, whose owner saw an image of Levine’s piece on Instagram, adorably sported a Kong costume.
One of the exhibition’s stand-outs was Gary Lockwood’s The Canis Runes. Lockwood aka Freehand Profit, is best known for an extended series of works in which he produces animal-headed gas masks using high-end sneakers. Here he offered three architectural fragments featuring images of dogs, which appear to be the ruins of an ancient civilization. Fitted with ropes and with handles that recall Tinker Toys, the weighty-looking, but light stones could be rearranged by visitors. Furthering the connection to childhood experience, the Jungle Book‘s monkey temple was called to mind.
Ultimately, my Granddog Wesley, ArtTable dogs (and models-par-excellence) Sophie and Beau, and dozens of other canines literally ate up and peed their way through the dOGUMENTA exhibition. Zillions of photos were taken and great fun was had by all!
For those in the LA area, the show, which is being presented at the FIGat7th Plaza by Arts Brookfield, will next be open September 21-23, 11am-6pm daily.
With gratitude to Adrienne Cole, Susie Goodman, and Olivia Blaustein for sharing their photographs with me!
ArtTable group with Tucker Marder’s Pig Totem, a wooden pole shaped by rubbing and worn smooth by pigs on an east coast farm, apparently intended to serve as a gesture of crosss-continental and interspecies exchange. Please note the puppy purse held by the puppy-wielding figure on the right!