New Smithsonian Show Mines the Rich History of Cat Art—Before the Meme
Everyone knows cats rule the Internet, but there's a rich history of cat art that came before the world wide web.
Want to guarantee yourself some social media love? An adorable cat video is sure to do the trick. But long before computers, cats were a fruitful source of inspiration to artists of all stripes. The Smithsonian Institute‘s Archives of American Art in Washington, DC, draws on that rich feline art history for “Before Internet Cats,” opening April 28.
The exhibition showcases 60 works featuring cats, both written and visual, from the archives’ collection. There are sketches and drawings in a variety of different mediums, as well as letters, journals, and photographs from the 19th century through the 1980s, all predating cat memes by decades.
Featured artists/cat lovers in the show are Gertrude Abercrombie, Jay DeFeo, Mark Green, Jasper Johns, Louise Nevelson, Naul Ojeda, Miné Okubo, Kay Sage, Frank Stella, Hedda Sterne, Lenore Tawney, and Beatrice Wood.
Treasures on view include “cat correspondence,” like this letter from Green to DeFeo: “People are my serious photography; cats are my relaxation.” There are also rare bits of ephemera, like the exhibition announcement for Dorr Bothwell’s 1977 show “All Kinds of Cats,” featuring an expressive line draw of a cat grooming itself.
According to the Archives, which are home to more than 20 million objects documenting the history of visual arts in the US, “cats are certainly among the more adorable findings in our collections.”
In bringing together this exhibition, they’ve attempted to address all aspects of the sometimes contrarian creatures, who can be both aloof and affectionate, friend and foe. Throughout the show, cats “are seen in numerous guises: playful subjects, humorous topics of conversation, independent studio companions, and beloved members of the family.”
See more images from the exhibition below.
The Archive of American Art’s “Before Internet Cats” is on view at the Lawrence A. Fleischman Gallery at the Donald W. Reynolds Center for American Art and Portraiture, 8th and F Streets, NW, Washington, DC, April 28–October 29, 2017.
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