Art Unleashed! Take a Tour of ‘dOGUMENTA,’ America’s First Art Exhibition That’s Just for Dogs

An interactive exhibition specially designed for the canine set.

Rocky, who curatored
Rocky, who curatored "dOGUMENTA" with his owner, Jessica Dawson, with Kathryn Cornelius's Sit, Stay, Heal. Courtesy of Sarah Cascone.

There’s plenty to be impressed by at Rocky Dawson’s curatorial debut, an ambitious exhibition titled “dOGUMENTA.” It’s not your typical summer group show, in no small part because Rocky is not your traditional art world professional. He’s a dog—a Maltese Yorkshire terrier mix, to be exact, who has belonged to art critic Jessica Dawson since 2013—and “dOGUMENTA,” presented by Arts Brookfield, is the country’s first art show specially designed to appeal to Rocky and his fellow canines.

“Pretty much as soon as we moved in together, we started going to galleries together,” Dawson told artnet News. But where even the most intrepid art critic inevitably comes down with art fatigue, Rocky never wavered in his energy or enthusiasm, tail wagging at the entrance to every show.

Rocky and his owner, Jessica Dawson, curators of "dOGUMENTA" with Margarita Korol's <em>Yes You Are</em>. Courtesy of Sarah Cascone.

Rocky and his owner, Jessica Dawson, curators of “dOGUMENTA” with Margarita Korol’s Yes You Are. Courtesy of Sarah Cascone.

“I said, what’s his secret? And I noticed he wasn’t reading the press releases, he wasn’t reading the artists résumés, and he wasn’t reading the reviews. He just went straight in and engaged with the work,” said Dawson. “I realized he had a lot to teach me about looking, and that all dogs have something to teach us in the art world about being with contemporary art.”

“dOGUMENTA” is Dawson’s way of giving back to man’s best friend. Unlike your typical Chelsea art show, the works in “dOGUMENTA” are all at eye level for Rocky, and Dawson doesn’t have to pick him up to help him to see them.

Rocky, who curatored "dOGUMENTA" with his owner, Jessica Dawson, with Graham Caldwell's <em>The Conclave</em>. Courtesy of Sarah Cascone.

Rocky, who curatored “dOGUMENTA” with his owner, Jessica Dawson, with Graham Caldwell’s The Conclave. Courtesy of Sarah Cascone.

Dogs are invited to climb on each and every piece and interact with the works however they might desire, whether that means eating, drinking, or even peeing on the art. Rocky was also intimately involved with the production of the show, participating in studio visits with the artists as they worked on their pieces.

It was understandably a big day for the canine curator at the Waterfront Plaza at Brookfield Place on August 10. Dawson, fearing Rocky would be overwhelmed by the adoring attention due all first-time curators, asked me not to greet him. Ahead of the VIP opening party, the pair gave me a walk-through of the show, pointing out the ways in which each work had been created with dogs in mind.

Eric Hibit, <em>Harmony in Blue and Yellow (Balls in Suspension)</em> in "dOGUMENTA," curated by Rocky and his owner, Jessica Dawson. Courtesy of Sarah Cascone.

Eric Hibit, Harmony in Blue and Yellow (Balls in Suspension) in “dOGUMENTA,” curated by Rocky and his owner, Jessica Dawson. Courtesy of Sarah Cascone.

Eric Hibit has contributed an abstract mixed-media sculpture, Harmony in Blue and Yellow (Balls in Suspension), featuring shades of yellow and blue, the colors that a dog’s eyes are naturally adapted to see. The Conclave, by Graham Caldwell, is a lounge area for dogs, featuring tiny versions of human furniture, often off-limits to house pets. There’s even a “Rothko chapel” for dogs titled The Hand That Feeds, featuring a portrait of the inventor of the dog biscuit, James Spratt, that the artist, Noah Scalin, crafted entirely from dog biscuits.

The most engaging works were those with an interactive element. Rocky hopped right up onto Eleanna Anagnos’s Penumbra Oasis, taking a few sips from the calm, triangle-shaped pool in the center of the work’s rough ground. Trained pastry chef Dana Sherwood has created a gorgeous tableaux of elaborate, Victorian-style cakes, made entirely of dog treats and other dog-friendly foodstuffs. Rocky sniffed away, but politely opted to abstain from the culinary delights until the exhibition was officially open.

Rocky, who curatored "dOGUMENTA" with his owner, Jessica Dawson, with Dana Sherwood's <em>Confections of Canines and Kings</em>. Courtesy of Sarah Cascone.

Rocky, who curatored “dOGUMENTA” with his owner, Jessica Dawson, with Dana Sherwood’s Confections of Canines and Kings. Courtesy of Sarah Cascone.

Rocky was also too shy to pee on Paul Vinet’s Fountain, which is inspired by the “Oxidation” paintings that Andy Warhol supposedly urinated on. Vinet conceived of his work as a participatory sculpture, which will change in color and appearance as dogs relieve themselves upon it.

The show is free to both humans and their furry friends, but advance reservations are recommended, as there is only the capacity for so many dogs at a time.

Dawson first proposed “dOGUMENTA” in early 2016, and soon there was a great deal of interest. “People actually came to us!” she said. “All the work relates to the existing practice of the artist. It’s not like some one-off piece that’s just for the dog show!”

Rocky and his owner, Jessica Dawson, curators of "dOGUMENTA" with Eleanna Anagnos's <em>Penumbra Oasis</em>. Courtesy of Sarah Cascone.

Rocky and his owner, Jessica Dawson, curators of “dOGUMENTA” with Eleanna Anagnos’s Penumbra Oasis. Courtesy of Sarah Cascone.

There are already plans to take the show on the road, but Dawson sees “dOGUMENTA” as just the beginning. “I can envision a world where every dog park is a sculpture park, essentially Storm King,” said Dawson. “That would be amazing!”

dOGUMENTA” is on view at Brookfield Place, Waterfront Plaza, 230 Vesey Street; August 11–13, 2017. 


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