By The Farmer's Dog | August 10, 2017

America’s first art show for dogs is coming to New York. This summer, dOGUMENTA (I) NYC is offering pet owners (and lovers) a new opportunity to connect and experience visual art with their dogs. We sat down with founding curator Jessica Dawson to talk about the inspiration behind the exhibit and the biggest lesson dogs can teach us about art.

What inspired the launch of dOGUMENTA?

The project was inspired by my gallery visits with my rescue dog Rocky, whose insights inspired the Dogumenta manifesto “5 Things My Dog Taught Me About Art.” I delivered the manifesto at a gallery in Brooklyn last year and felt that it was time for canines to have an art show all their own.

How did you begin curating the exhibit? What kind of visual artists did you want to include?

Once we found our venue partner (Brookfield Place in New York), we started hounding artists whose work we found interesting. All of the artists we’re featuring in the show responded immediately to the concept and understood how it operated on multiple levels at once. Mica Scalin (my creative development consultant and partner) and I vetted their 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 dialog to determine which works would be most suitable for exhibition. The process has been really fun and illuminating for us and that’s what we hope to bring to the public in this exhibition.

What approach did the artists take to creating work for dogs?

All of the artists are excited to frame ideas from their existing practice for a new audience and have been considering dogs’ unique points of view and perception. There will be work about the emotional issues dogs face — anxiety, which is common — as well as work that speaks to dogs’ interest in certain color schemes (they can see blue, yellow and grey). Works exploring formal, conceptual, and relational issues will be executed in a variety of media from sound and sculpture to kibble and squeaky toys. 

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 a human’s, and of course they live closer to the ground. They’re also fearless and willing to engage with work in a variety of different ways, like sniffing, peeing, and licking. We expect a really diverse range of interactions.

That said, we hesitate to speak too broadly for an entire species. 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 specifics of a dog’s physical perspective or perceptual abilities, while others are more concerned with emotional connections.

We look forward to learning from the show. Will hounds react differently than terriers? Dachshunds vs Dobermans? Each piece of artwork addresses canine viewers differently, so the whole show is an experiment for both the curators and the artists.

What do you hope visitors will take away from the exhibit?

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.

What is the biggest lesson dogs have taught you about art?

Go with your gut! Being fearless in the face of art is Rocky’s greatest lesson.

Image: Jason Falchook