The Cat Show

White Columns, New York, 14 June – 27 July 2013

By David Everitt Howe

The Cat Show, 2013 (installation view). Courtesy White Columns, New York The Cat Show, 2013 (installation view). Courtesy White Columns, New York

The cat’s out of the bag! White Columns’s pitch-perfect summer group exhibition The Cat Show has proved, once and for all, what everyone in the artworld has already known since the dawn of Modernism: it’s impossible for a faggot to pan a show about kitties, no matter how stupid the feline ‘premise’ (it would be like denouncing dick, and that’s something a homo takes with him to hell). 

So I’m happy to say that going to The Cat Show is sort of like going to the Willy Wonka factory. There are so many kitties – kitties everywhere! Up high. Down low. Tied in a knot. Tied in a bow. Hung salon-style. Hung catty corner (literally, Kay Rosen spelling out ‘catty’ and ‘corner’ in two corners of a gallery). Projected as a hologram (Antoine Catala’s Cat, 2012, which also emits cute kitty meows periodically). Projected in 16mm, with a cat’s tail twitching abstractly in black and white (Mark Leckey’s Flix, 2008). There are drawn kitties, collaged kitties and – ohmygod! – kitties in the flesh, ready to be adopted and loved in a new home (mine!). It’s almost unbearable, like brain freeze from too much ice cream, or getting so stoned you can’t move. (It feels like I’m losing brain cells even as I write this.)

Going to The Cat Show is sort of like going to the Willy Wonka factory

But what’s not to like, after all, about an exhaustive collection of famous artists’ secret, large-scale c-print portraits of their favourite felines? With 90 contributors to the show, some of the works are bound to be dumb, and some of them are bound to be beautiful. Michele Abeles’s 6th of April (2007) and Eileen Quinlan’s The Last Picture I Took of Crow (2012) are in the former camp: they’re both straight-up, close-cropped glamour shots (which gets redundant, though they sure seem like nice pussies).

Perhaps more interesting is Ann Cathrin November Høibo’s Documentation Is Everything #09 (2013), for which she disables a black tripod by gluing one of those Chinese lucky fortune cats to the spot where a camera should go and painting the creature black to blend in sneakily – a hilarious misuse of its function. Marilyn Minter’s huge Cat’s Eye (2006) is strikingly gorgeous. The picture zooms in on a woman holding her black cat; the colours are saturated and sumptuous – and, somehow, the composition comes off as genuinely touching. Jake Ewert’s two soot-on-corduroy panels, both abstractions of a cat’s face – easily the least representational cats here – have something vaguely Frank Stella about them.

But let’s not forget the big cat habitat, which is the show’s centrepiece. Filled to the brim with artist-made toys and structures, including a pallet by Joe Scanlan and a Zen Litter Tray (2013) by Rob Pruitt, which is a functional litter box, by the way (and one I now lust over), this ‘salon-style’ ‘kitty kunsthalle’ for ‘purrrformance’, as curator Rhonda Lieberman recently phrased it, has live cats for adoption every weekend (courtesy of Social Tees Animal Rescue). It just goes to show that, gay critic or otherwise, everyone in the artworld is an old cat lady at heart. 

This review originally appeared in the September 2013 issue