I went to The Cat Show, a cat-themed art exhibition at White Columns because I love cats and not under the auspices of JapanCulture•NYC. I’ve become adept at finding a morsel of Japanese-ness in everything I do, and this art gallery in the West Village was no exception.
Curated by writer and artist Rhonda Lieberman, this cat-centric display celebrates our feline friends in photographs, paintings, drawings, video, tchotchke, and mixed media. There’s even a cats-in-residence program where no-kill shelter Social Tees Animal Rescue brings in rescued kitties on Fridays and Saturdays to play in an enclosure, designed by architect Gia Wolff in collaboration with Freecell Architecture, right in the middle of the gallery space. Guests can enter the cat habitat to mingle in the artwork and to pet the cats – which are up for adoption, by the way.
For the Japan connection, I found six pieces in the exhibit by Japanese artists or containing some reference to Japan.
Documentation is Everything
Ann Cathrin Novemer Høibo
One of the first things you’ll see upon entering the main gallery is a maneki-neko on a tripod. The 18-page document that lists the details of each piece (there is no information on the gallery walls) calls this a “Chinese fortune cat,” but we all know this beckoning creature is the quintessential Japanese shop talisman, bringing luck in the form of customers and sales to merchants.
This work by American artist Takeshi Murata looks like an animation cel. Part of Murata’s “Synthesizer” series, Condos incorporates an electric piano into the design of the condo’s cat towers. The coffee perched on the edge of the keyboard wouldn’t last long with most cats. The sword on the left is a nice touch.
Zen Litter Tray
Located inside the cat habitat is American visual artist Rob Pruitt’s expansive Zen Litter Tray, measuring in at about three feet long and more than two feet wide. While I didn’t see one of the cats use the box, I imagined them raking lovely circular patterns into the litter and meditating in the process once their business was done.
This cute kitty is Chiro, the beloved cat of Tokyo-born photographer Nobuyoshi Araki. Typically his work encompasses erotic photos of women in bondage, but he also documents daily life, including the life he shared with Chiro. He disliked cats at first – his wife, Yoko, introduced Chiro into the household in 1988 – but he soon forged a loving relationship, especially after Yoko died in 1990. The photographer and his cat spent twenty-two years together, until Chiro’s death in 2010. Among Araki’s 400+ photography books, several are about his favorite feline. Read the heartwarming story of a Japanese man and his neko here.
Catwalking: A Conversation with Mikio Kamiyama
Austrian-born artist Rainer Ganahl and his young son, the lederhosen-clad Edgar, run into retired Japanese hematologist Mikio Kamiyama in Central Park. Kamiyama is walking his giant cat, Alexander Pushkin, a Russian Blue named after the famed Russian poet and writer. Throughout the 40-minute video, the artist, who is wearing wooden geta, and the scientist discuss World War II, life in the United States, and Kamiyama’s volunteer work in an AIDS clinic in Kenya. Catwalking is part of Ganah’s BASIC JAPANESE series.
I am Maru 4
Maru, Japan’s most famous Scottish fold, is part of the collection of videos about cats on YouTube. In one room of White Columns, guests can sit and watch Maru squeeze his fat body into small boxes, slide into paper bags, and be just plain entertaining.
The Cat Show exhibits at White Columns until Saturday, July 27. Enjoy this interview with curator Rhonda Lieberman, conducted by cats Uni and Chloe of the blog Shit My Cats Read.