access magazine summer 2016

Page 8

Cats Take Center Stage in Contemporary Art Installation

Cats-in-Residence Program on view July 13 – September 4, 2016 Studio 206, Higgins Education Wing rtist and critic Rhonda Lieberman’s boundary-breaking installation at the Worcester Art Museum, the Cats-inResidence Program, puts kitties in starring roles. But humans have their part to play, too.


As for the role that people play? Humans, says Lieberman, are the “purr-fect” foil to this regal species and their delightful unpredictability. As for her unabashedly zany word play, it’s the first clue that something new and fun is “paw-sible.”

The idea for the installation emerged more than fifteen years ago From July 13 – September 4, WAM visitors can enter a grand as Lieberman, who lives in New York, began to watch “the little and intriguing cat aviary to bear witness to a world made intrigues” of a cat colony living in a vacant lot near her loft in Long expressly for cats. Their enclosed habitat sprawls like a 3Island City back in the 1990s. With a neighbor, she regularly fed dimensional Chutes and Ladders board game that has been and sought homes for them. “I really liked hanging out there with re-envisioned for ultimate cat pleasure. Lieberman, who studied the outdoor cats. It was a wonderful and has taught at Yale, matched environment, peaceful and fun, and clever wits with twenty-two artists, “ I call it a purr-formance piece, I wanted to honor the cats in a way including Gia Wolff and Freecell because we’re watching cats that would show how great they are Architecture in Brooklyn, NY, to instead of how they are typically create something fanciful and playful do their thing. It’s constantly treated as throwaways.” that joins cats and humans in a novel changing.” — Rhonda Lieberman experience. Lieberman’s aim, beyond She began to consider using art to the works of art that support this express her transformative experience in that empty industrial captivating social environment, is the adoption of homeless but lot. She realized “it could be magical. I could take this abject socialized cats. “What I really want,” she says, “is for people to situation and flip it, take out all the negatives and make it a snap them up like hotcakes.” Through a partnership with the positive appreciation of cats.” She learned, in her research, that Worcester Animal Rescue League, WAM visitors will be able to seven out of ten cats don’t make it out of shelters alive. And that do just that. the no-kill shelters are overcrowded. She took in a family of five cats and at one time had nine. “It was fun having a home zoo,” Cats — in every conceivable iteration — are all over WAM this she says. “I could be one of those people with a lot of cats if I summer. The Cats-in-Residence Program is one of several art didn’t funnel and sublimate that impulse into this project.” Mary components of Meow: a cat-inspired exhibition. Meow’s centerCatherine Gallagher, one of the cats from the original “home piece, an exhibition titled The Captivating Cat: Felines and the zoo,” now 21 years old, is still with her. Artist’s Gaze, features more than 70 works from the Museum’s collections and explores several themes, including cats not just Eventually, says Lieberman, the world caught up with her. She’d as muse but as metaphor for the modern artist. In addition, visitors been pitching the cat installation for some time when the Walker can take a self-guided Cat Walk throughout the Museum to see Art Center in Minneapolis hosted the Internet Cat Video Festival other works of feline art in the galleries and into the Higgins Wing in 2012, and the phenomenon of watching online cat videos went where the Cats-in-Residence Program is installed. viral. “Because of that, I was able to place this ever-changing installation in high-profile venues. It appeals to animal people A different kind of museum experience, Cats-in Residence works and to art people. And it can help animal people open up to because of Lieberman’s daring and sense of humor. (It has been contemporary art and art people to consider animal welfare. It’s shown previously in New York City, Hartford, and Los Angeles.) squarely in a couple of camps.” “It always touches me when you see people loving animals,” she says. “Faces light up when they see the cats. It’s not the usual By hosting the Cats-in-Residence Program, WAM is testing response in an art situation. This art has a playful vibe. The art boundaries, just as Lieberman did in her creative mixing of art, sculpts that response; it works with the existing reality.” cats, and humans. “I’m excited,” says Lieberman, about bringing her installation to Worcester. “And as curious as any cat to see Behind Lieberman’s good humor and altruism is a serious artist how it all comes together!” with serious messages. Just because Cats-in-Residence is full of cats, litter boxes, scratching apparatuses and cozy retreats — reimagined by enthusiastic artists — doesn’t discount the gravitas underlying this collaborative work of art. Just step inside to explore more than twenty feline-centric works of art.


Learn more at

Issuu converts static files into: digital portfolios, online yearbooks, online catalogs, digital photo albums and more. Sign up and create your flipbook.