This summer, the Blanton is excited to present In the Company of Cats and Dogs. On view from June 22 – September 21, the exhibition features approximately 150 works by masters such as Albrecht Dürer, Jean-Honoré Fragonard, William Blake, Francisco Goya, Paul Gauguin, Takahashi (Shotei) Hiroaki, Pablo Picasso, Henri Cartier-Bresson, Edward Hopper, Louise Bourgeois, and others. Examining the ever-changing roles of cats and dogs and our enduring fascination with them, the presentation includes Egyptian sculpture, Chinese and Pre-Columbian ceramics, medieval and Renaissance manuscripts, and prints, books, photographs and paintings from the Blanton’s collection and those of the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston; the Yale Center for British Art; UT’s Harry Ransom Center, and other public and private collections. In anticipation of the exhibition opening, we invited intern Douglas Cushing to provide insight into the research and preparation for the show.
In September of this past year, I began as an intern in the Print and Drawings and European Paintings department at the Blanton. Since then, I have been working on the upcoming exhibition, In the Company of Cats and Dogs, and I have been extremely fortunate to have been included in the process of researching and selecting works for the show. Additionally, I have been able to follow the evolution of the exhibition space. In the process, I have learned quite a bit from the show’s curator, Francesca Consagra, and from other members of the Blanton community, and I have enjoyed every minute of the work! Among the most rewarding aspects of this position have been the opportunities and challenges in researching objects that span diverse cultures and epochs. Expanding my horizon constantly has been a joy!
With so many wonderful objects in this show, picking a favorite is difficult, though I found one that I recently researched particularly moving. In the last few years of his life, after suffering a stroke that paralyzed his left hand and left him quite weak, German artist Otto Dix produced a multi-color lithograph of a cat in a field of poppies that I think stands apart in his oeuvre. Earlier in his career, Dix’s critical view of German society produced some unflinching images of war. He also allegorized the decadence of the bourgeoisie, portraying their excess with grotesque eroticism that he often contrasted with the marginalized veterans of the Great War. When the Nazis took power, Dix became a pariah, but he continued to make work.
Now, at the end of his life, the artist was dealing with the subject of his own decline. During this period, Dix produced a self-portrait of himself as a stroke victim, and another of himself as a skull. Here, however, he chose to depict a hunting cat. Claws out, eyes wide, lithe, it stalks its prey among the flowers. Despite Dix’s frenetic and seismic mark making, the fluidity of the cat’s movement is manifest. I cannot help but see this as a self-portrait as well. His mind was on the track of an idea. Illness had diminished Dix’s manual control, but his will to express himself visually remained strong. He was determined to make a print that remained powerful and affecting. When Dix died the next year, a painting of a solitary arrangement of flowers remained on his easel. The cat, now absent, had apparently completed its hunt.