Shelter Cats Bask in the Limelight at Feline Art Exhibit in New York
by Laura Cross
Published on July 10, 2013
“The Cat Show,” at the renowned White Columns alternative art space in New York, is a feline art exhibit that’s 14 years in the making.
It all started in the 1990s when artist Rhonda Lieberman, the show's curator and a self-described “out and proud cat lady,” was living in Long Island City, N.Y., and noticed that the city was riddled with street cats. At dusk, the feral cat colony on her street would turn into a “cat party,” and Lieberman enjoyed feeding and caring for her feline neighbors. But as her neighborhood started redeveloping, the cats were pushed out and had nowhere to go — not even shelters.
“I was really in tune to what happens to homeless cats in the city,” Lieberman told Vetstreet. “Rescues were overextended and overflowing with cats.”
Art, she believed, could help solve this problem.
Lieberman set out to create a space that was more appealing and aesthetic than a cage, so she reached out to artists and designers to help her create a feline habitat that would showcase adoptable rescue cats.
The artists and designers loved the idea, but art galleries in New York were not so excited. None of the galleries she pitched the idea to were willing to host rescue cats.
Internet Cat Videos Pave the Way for Art
After pitching her installation to art spaces for more than a decade, Lieberman finally got a break. In August 2012, the famed Walker Art Center in Minneapolis, Minn., hosted the Internet Cat Video Festival. The event, which featured viral cat videos like fan-favorite Henri 2, Paw de Deux, proved to be wildly popular and gave Lieberman the motivation to pitch her cat art installation to galleries again.
Suddenly, galleries weren’t so apprehensive about hosting cats. White Columns agreed to allow the cats on the premises as long as they could also feature cat-related art.
Adoptable shelter cats relax in their specially designed enclosure.
More than 50 artists contributed to "The Cat Show" installation. Here's a view of the "catty" corner.
The exhibit, curated by artist and self-proclaimed "out and proud cat lady" Rhonda Lieberman, raises awareness about strays and rescue cats.
Curator Rhonda Lieberman hopes that the art helps reinforce our love of cats. "Next to a Warhol, stray cats look like a million bucks," she says.
From oil paintings to short video clips, art at the installation comes in almost every medium.
The exhibit's adoptable "purr-formers" were donated by Social Tees, a nonprofit, no-kill shelter in New York. The shelter chose cats who were sociable and got along with each other.
The specially designed kitty enclosure is covered in chicken wire and has room for four to five people to stand inside and interact with the adoptable cats.
Artist Jeff Funnell drew these nine feline portraits with pastels on paper.
These adorable felines are from the personal ceramic cat collection of T. Cole Rachel.
The Cat Show opened on June 14 and runs through July 27. Besides the designer cat enclosure, the exhibit also features pieces of art by more than 50 different artists.
“The art kind of proliferated like a feral cat colony — it organically unfolded," says Lieberman.
While the amazing artwork brings a taste of highbrow culture to the show, the real stars of the installation are the cats. “The cats are upstaging the art,” jokes Lieberman.
The adoptable cats, or “purr-formers” inside the specially designed enclosure, come from Social Tees Animal Rescue, a no-kill shelter in New York, and many of them were adopted the first weekend of the show.
“The vibe at the show is so great,” says Lieberman. “At the opening, peoples’ faces lit up when they saw the cats. They almost had a childlike sense of delight. People were even clapping at the cats’ antics.”
A Special Habitat for Special Cats
The centerpiece of the show is of course, the "cats-in-residence" and their special chicken wire-wrapped enclosure. Lieberman collaborated with designers like Sam Roeck, who created a modular unit for the enclosure out of plywood and plexi-glass — something that he had always wanted to make for his cats — and Rob Pruitt, who designed a Zen litterbox.
To bring the many disparate pieces together, Lieberman worked with architects to design a structure to unite the space. They came up with a big black tube.
Lieberman didn't get to see the enclosure in action until opening night, and she's pleased with the structure. “It’s like a giant cat tree,” says Lieberman. “It’s kind of magical.”
While “The Cat Show” closes on July 27, Lieberman hopes she can do something like it again. She aims to create a more sustainable version of the feline habitat, but without the accompanying art.
She hopes the show raises awareness about strays and shelter cats, and helps reinforce peoples’ love for cats.
“Art celebrates all kinds of beauty," Lieberman says. "Strays are not as valued, but they are just as gorgeous and lovable as other cats.”
The Cat Show exhibit at White Columns in New York runs through July 27, 2013. Cats are available for adoption July 12–13 and July 19–20.