At Salon 94, Nikki Maloof’s ‘Tiger’ Is a Very Humane Beast

THE DAILY PIC: Show a man-eater from behind, and it goes all pussy-cat.


THE DAILY PIC (#1366): Anyone who follows this column will know that today’s image is not exactly to my usual taste – I prefer art that’s less funky and cute. But looking at Nikki Maloof’s Tiger in a Yellow Field of Sad Flowers, now on view in the summer show at Salon 94 in New York, I was suddenly struck by something peculiar that would be true about Maloof’s tiger no matter the style or medium it might have been rendered in. I’m convinced that the fact of being shown from behind instantly anthropomorphizes this beast, turning a wild killer into a cereal-box Tony. Given the feline’s pose, that is, Maloof barely had to use her sweet technique to make her painting seem viewer-friendly.

I think that’s because images of tigers that don’t show their toothy business end would almost never be judged worth publishing or keeping – and so have never had a chance to get fixed in our minds as examples of scary tigertude. (For that matter, how many of us have ever come across a real-life tiger from behind, all casual-like? Although come to think of it, if you have to have a live-tiger encounter, you’d certainly be pleased to see it turn tail.)

Our pictorial and perceptual “schemata” for tigers – maybe even the way they are wired into the primitive, saber-toothed-fearing parts of our brain – always imagine them from in front. Whereas when it comes to viewing other humans, both live and in pictures, we’re forever seeing them in a rear view.

Hence the inevitable, surprising, very human appeal of Maloof’s tiger, even to a charm-hating critic like me.

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