The first ever dOGUMENTA left its visitors' tails wagging.
Nacho, Creators' Canine Critic in Chief. Photo by Beckett Mufson
It's a given that art is made for humans. But an experimental exhibition that ran in New York from August 11–13 showcased works of art designed specifically for canine viewers. Presented by Arts Brookfield, dOGUMENTA was filled with art pieces meant to intrigue and stimulate pups' various senses of taste, smell, and touch. Confections of Canines and Kings, by human artist Dana Sherwood, was a smorgasbord of edible doggy confections. Fountain from Paul Vinet was an interactive sculpture; dogs were encouraged to leave their marks on the work—a reference to Andy Warhol's infamous oxidation paintings, no less.
The curators of dOGUMENTA believe an exhibition for animals gives dog owners a chance to really understand their pets. As art critic and dOGUMENTA co-curator Jessica Dawson tells Creators, "dOGUMENTA offers both the chance for humans to get to know their canine friends better and also the opportunity to approach art differently themselves. Attendees will gain new insights into their companion's personality and character. It's an opportunity for bonding and learning."
Dawson is no stranger to appreciating art with a canine companion; she got the idea for dOGUMENTA during art gallery strolls with her dog, Rocky. A series of videos on the dOGUMENTA website called 5 Things a Dog Can Teach You About Art chronicle the life lessons Dawson has learned on their art walks.
Dawson noted that Rocky perceived art differently from humans, noting the change in his body language and the way he would walk up to and respond to various exhibits. For Dawson, dOGMENTA is also an opportunity for people to experience and observe art in a different way. "Broadly, we know that canines perceive the world in unique ways—olfaction is essential to their understanding. The color spectrum they see is different from humans, and of course, they live closer to the ground," Dawson says. "They're also fearless and will engage with work in a variety of different ways: sniffing, peeing, licking. We expect a really diverse range of interactions."
dOGUMENTA was definitely the cutest art show we've ever attended. We watched a young golden retriever, all blonde fluff and tail wags, plop down into the triangular pool of Eleanna Anagnos's Penumbra Oasis with a blissful smile on his face. Two sleek grey dogs named Curry and Chai submitted to a reiki session with artist Kathryn Cornelius under a tent filled with driftwood, sheepskin rugs, and crystals.
Dawson and her curatorial team commissioned ten artists in total to produce art that challenged canine perceptions, framing ideas from their own practice for a new audience. "We started by hounding artists whose work we found interesting. All of the artists we [featured] in the show responded immediately to the idea and understood how it operated on multiple levels at once," Dawson says. "My co-organizer Mica Scalin and I vetted their sincere interest and capabilities, and then we brought Rocky with us to studio visits where he could sniff out their ideas in more detail. Rocky has a curious nature that has made him a great curating partner. He developed a rapport with the artists, and together we had a dialogue to determine which works would be most suitable for the exhibition."
The curatorial process of dOGUMENTA was thought-provoking, entirely experimental process for the curators. "Just like humans, individual dogs have different attractions and aversions, so we are intentionally presenting works that address a variety of aesthetic and conceptual concerns. Some artists are interested in the specifics of a dog's physical perspective or perceptual abilities; others are more concerned with emotional connections."
To learn more and find out about future events, sign up for dOGUMENTA's mailing list on their website.