The convergence of art and canines can yield thrilling results—a visual feast, an engaging tutorial of ideas, unadulterated fun. The new year brings a host of intriguing exhibitions to museums across the country—There’s something to satisfy every taste: the traditionalist, the modernist, the academic and even the I-don’t-like-museum types.
1. Vernacular Photography Fair ; January 10–11; Santa Monica, CA
Found photography or anonymous imagery is a photographic genre that’s making inroads into museums and collections. Snapshots are a part of American life and memory, and among these rediscovered treasures, you’ll often find man’s best friend. Best of all, vernacular photography remains an affordable collectible (check out the $5 bins!), and this gathering of dealers offers a dose of nostalgic bliss.
2. Roy De Forest: Painting the Big Painting ; January 8–February 28; Brian Gross Fine Art; San Francisco, CA
A chance to experience first-hand the wonderful paintings of this preeminent California painter is not to be missed. De Forest’s surreal mindscapes filled with dogs, horses, birds and people resonate with bright colors, thick paint and mythic tales. De Forest is loosely grouped together with 60’s Funk art, yet his vision stands alone in its originality. De Forest’s paintings attain something rare—inspiring joy, laughter, awe and sheer delight.
3. Pets in America ; September 13, 2008–February 1; Stamford Museum & Nature Center; Stamford, CT
This thought-provoking exhibition explores the bond between people and animals, and the history of pet-keeping. The collection of more than 300 objects includes pet attire, feeding and housing implements, pet remedies, and a coat and collar made for President Roosevelt’s dog, Fala. Developed in support of research by Professor Katherine C. Grier, the show is both scholarly and entertaining, examining the impact pet-keeping has had on ideas on human nature, emotional life, individual responsibility and societal obligations.
4. The Beauty of the Beasts: Artists and their Pets in 20th-Century Art ; January 7–March 16; Art Institute of Chicago; Chicago, IL
This survey includes a diverse selection of works, from Renaissance sculpture to modernists Frida Kahlo and Pablo Picasso, connected by their love of animals and works featuring their pets. See how companion dogs worked their way into the art of Caravaggio and the canvases of Pierre Bonnard, and created the phenomenon known as the Blue Dog. Yes, there are propositions on symbolism, allegories and the like, but these aesthetic mash-ups are really an excuse for some fun and surprising pairings—where else could you see Frida’s monkey share a room with Cellini’s shaggy dog?
5. Pierre Bonnard: The Late Interiors ; January 27–April 19; The Metropolitan Museum of Art; New York, NY
A rare exhibition focusing on the post-Impressionist Pierre Bonnard’s (1867–1947) late interior and still life paintings. The 8o paintings, drawings and watercolors are radiant, glowing with the warmth of their Mediterranean locale. Bonnard’s beloved Dachshunds are present in a handful of the best works, curled up next to a bath, sitting at the table, asleep in a corner. These paintings capture a distant time and place, melding a Proustian sensibility with an Impressionist’s palette.
6. Dog Days Auction Sale ; February 10; Bonhams New York; New York, NY
This annual event coincides with the Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show, and features antique paintings, decorative arts and collectibles with a dog breed theme. The quality of the pieces ranges greatly—from masterwork to kitsch—but all are fascinating in their historical context if not always in their aesthetic merit. Who can resist a painting like this year’s prized item—Arthur John Elsley’s One at a Time (1901)—which depicts a Terrier and a Collie vying for the affections of a rosy-cheeked, bonneted young girl? Bonham’s hosts a popular Sunday brunch-benefit on February 8; check for other viewing opportunities and the online catalog.
7. Paws and Reflect: Art of Canines ; January 31–March 29; The Spartanburg Art Museum; Spartanburg, SC; April 26–June 14, 2009;
New Visions Gallery, Marshfield, WI; July 4–August 30, 2009;
Elizabeth de C. Wilson Museum, Southern Vermont Arts Center,
This traveling exhibition, which includes paintings, watercolors and sculptures created in the realist manner, will appeal to the traditionalist art lover. Works by over 30 artists from around the country, extraordinary technique and respect for the subject matter are the themes of the day. Among the highlights are several life-size bronze sculptures.
8. It’s a Dog’s Life: Photographs by William Wegman from the Polaroid Collection ; January 18–April 12; Leepa-Rattner Museum of Art; Tarpon Springs, FL
For those only familiar with Wegman’s photographs from books and magazines, these large-format images—with their saturated color and vivid detail—will be a welcome surprise. The subjects are well-known: his Weimaraner pack of models in zany costumes, posed in studies of form and abstractionthe artist’s special brand of visual puns. The scale and presence of these oversized “instant snapshots” are impressive. The fact that Polaroid has discontinued making its trademarked film adds a particular poignancy to this exhibit.
9. Francis Bacon: A Centenary Retrospective ; May 20–August 16; The Metropolitan Museum of Art; New York, NY
The first major New York exhibition in 20 years devoted to one of the most important painters of the 20th century, this is a major event. Featuring 153 works spanning the artist’s oeuvre, it’s likely to be a rewarding and exhaustive experience. We expect to see at least a few of Bacon’s paintings of dogs based on the photographs of Eadweard Muybridge’s famous locomotion studies. The paintings are studies of malevolence, power and horror—themes the artist grappled with throughout his career. These early paintings are monumental in their dark moodiness, primal in their elicitation of emotion. Do what you can to see them.
10. Darwin: Big Idea, Big Exhibition ; November 14, 2008–April 19, 2009; Natural History Museum; London, England; November 7, 2009–February 28, 2010; San Diego Natural History Museum; San Diego, CA
Celebrate the 200th birthday of Charles Darwin, the great thinker whose revolutionary theory changed our understanding of the world. Besides sailing on a ship of discovery named the HMS Beagle, Darwin was a lover of dogs, and his observations of them informed his theories on evolution, species classification and animal behavior. The exhibition is rich with specimens and artifacts, including letters and publications that illustrate Darwin’s life and the lasting impact of his ideas. The seeds of canine genetics can be seen sprinkled throughout the collection. The exhibition celebrates Darwin’s birthday (February 12) and ends on the 127th anniversary of his death, moving on to the San Diego Natural History Museum.
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