A few weeks ago I attended America’s first art exhibition for dogs. That’s right, for dogs, not about dogs. It was called dOGUMENTA and it was a lot of fun. Spearheaded by art critic and historian Jessica Dawson, the show featured ten works by established and emerging artists that took into consideration dogs’ way of encountering the world. That means the pieces were best seen from a dog’s eye view.
Dogs’s senses are very different from ours. Canines experience the world primarily through their very powerful sense of smell; our primary sensory experiences are visual. Their sense of taste is much more acute than ours. Dogs’ sense of sight is also very different from ours; they are drawn to movement and they experience colors differently than we do. Dogs touch things with their feet, noses, and tongues, very different from the way we handle objects with our hands
For more on dogs’ faculties, read Urban Dog’s story on dogs’ amazing sense of smell; this review of Alexandra Horowitz’ book Being a Dog; and this story about how dogs perceive the world after a snowfall.
Two works, Confessions of Canines and Kings by Dana Sherwood (seen above) and The Hand That Feeds by Noah Scalin, featured sculptures and portraits made of dog treats. Dogs were allowed to sniff and eat the treats. The artists wanted exhibition attendees to contemplate the relationship between human (feeder) and dog (fed.)
The creator of Fountain, Paul Vinet, (seen above and below) invited dogs to “collaborate” with him. The work looks like a Minimalist sculpture, but when dogs pee on it, pigment runs down the sides of the work, changing it. It’s a riff on Andy Warhol’s Oxidation paintings, which he is said to have urinated on.
The sculpture below, Any Dog Can Be a Guide Dog if You Don’t Care Where You’re Going by Tibi Tibi Neuspiel, was made from cast and found dog toys. It depicts a dog sitting in what scientists have determined to be the most appealing posture for canines. (I think that Pug might disagree!)
The Conclave, by Graham Caldwell, (seen below) allows dogs to experience something familiar, a living room, but scaled for them. It allows dogs to interact with human furniture on their terms!
The sculpture below, Penumbra Osasis by Eleanna Angnos, invites dogs to experience her work through their paws and their sense of touch.
Humans even got a chance to get in on the act. Kathryn Cornelius‘ work Sit, Stay, Heal (seen below) is a performance piece that creates “a space for intentional energetic connection through reiki, mantra, and guided meditation.”
Dawson says she got the idea for the show during her gallery walks with her rescue dog Rocky. She says it is apparent that Rocky experiences art very differently than she does: “He’s got something to teach me about looking.” It was natural to conclude that Rocky and his canine cohort deserved a show of their own. She named the show after documenta, a major art survey that takes place every five years in Germany.
More than 4,000 people attended dOGUMENTA.