Dogs have their day at revived NY museum

A giant dog sculpture in The American Kennel Club's Museum of the Dog.
A giant dog sculpture in The American Kennel Club's Museum of the Dog.PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

NEW YORK • Dogs play cameo roles in some of the West's most iconic paintings, yet man's best friend has arguably gotten short shrift in the global museum hierarchy.

But a museum addition in Manhattan restores the animals to what canine afficionados will no doubt view as their rightful place at the centre of the picture.

The American Kennel Club's Museum of the Dog, which opened last month in midtown Manhattan, contains a smorgasbord of works of varying aesthetic ambition, along with interactive displays.

The collection comprises more than 2,000 paintings, photos, sculptures and artefacts, and includes a healthy supply of works that document what the ancestors of today's pets looked like in the 19th century and earlier. These include the skeleton of Belgrade Joe, a Fox Terrier that died in 1888 and is seen as a seminal figure in that breed's evolution.

Some works are photograph-like depictions of breeds that will appeal to dog-showing professionals.

Mr Alan Fausel, the museum's executive director, who specialised in canine art with private auction houses before being hired to lead the museum last year, said: "They look at the painting as they would a show dog and they critique it that way - by the anatomy, the way it's built and so forth. There's nothing about how it was rendered or anything like that.

"The average person will be interested in things that have some action, some activity, some narrative content."

Paintings of dogs evolved from pre-Victorian depictions that emphasised carnal aggression to 19th-century portraiture to 20th-century works that anthropomorphise the creatures once photography largely obviated more naturalistic works, according to Mr Fausel.

The museum itself dates to 1982, when it was first established in New York before relocating in 1987 to St Louis, where it stayed for 37 years in the sleepy outskirts of the midwestern city.

The move to New York, which is home to myriad collections ranging from the Museum of Sex to the Tenement Museum to the Metropolitan Museum and other prestigious attractions, gives the collection more prominence.

The collection includes depictions of Millie, the English springer spaniel that lived in the White House as the pet of late American president George H.W. Bush and wife Barbara, as well as Silent Sorrow, a poignant rendering of King Edward VII's fox terrier mourning its master's sudden death that may remind viewers of Sully, the labrador retriever which went viral last year after he was photographed sleeping next to Mr Bush's coffin.

The museum features interactive displays, including a rather tongue-in-cheek one that helps visitors discover which breed they most resemble and advice on training, as well as a sample of some 15,000 documents contained in a canine library.

The museum is targeting perhaps 100,000 visitors in its first year, but Mr Fausel expects to organise a series of special exhibits that could potentially have broad appeal.


A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on March 05, 2019, with the headline 'Dogs have their day at revived NY museum'. Print Edition | Subscribe