For roughly 15 years, artist and writer Rhonda Lieberman says she has wanted to do a gallery installation that involved cats. But for roughly 15 years, she couldn't find a taker.
"Galleries," she says, "are not wild about hosting rescue cats."
But after the Walker Art Center in Minneapolis hosted its wildly successful Internet Cat Video Festival in 2012, Lieberman says she felt the moment had come. So she pitched the concept of a cat-themed show to the White Columns gallery in New York, which agreed to stage an exhibition.
"The Cat Show," as it was called, gathered feline-related works by prominent artists (from video game hacker Cory Arcangel to conceptual photographer Robert Heinecken, whose work is currently on view at the Hammer Museum). It also featured an installation designed by architects Freecell and Gia Wolff, which served as a sort of avant-garde kitty play zone. Inside, a couple dozen cats did what cats do — played, lounged and snoozed around cat-friendly sculptures. The twist: all of the cats were available for adoption.
Now Lieberman is bringing her cat concept to Los Angeles, in an exhibition at the art space 356 Mission Rd., which opens on Sunday. (This follows up a group show about cats that the gallery did back in August.) "The Cats-in-Residence Program," as the new exhibition is called, contains an architectural installation in which a couple dozen rescue cats will play. And, as at the show at White Columns, visitors will be able to adopt the cats.
"Shelters are so depressing and dismal," Lieberman says. "When animals are put in a more cheerful environment, it becomes this joyous thing. I wanted to create a beautiful environment to honor rescue cats."
"You have these cats interacting with pieces and it's mesmerizing," she adds. "My goal was to build up that project to exist as a longer term installation — like Walter de Maria's '[New York] Earth Room,' [which features a room filled with dirt], except this would be the 'Cat Room.'"
Lieberman, who writes for publications such as Artforum and the Baffler (she wrotes this terrifically searing essay about the vulgarity of much contemporary collecting), says her interest in cats began in the 1990s, when she began tending to a colony that lived around her industrial neighborhood in New York.
"I started thinking of it as an art installation," she says. "Creating this environment where you could be with these fascinating, beautiful creatures."
Which brings us to her choice of video for Moment of Friday: a spectacularly kitschy performance by Ballet Zoom, a 1970s troupe from Spain doing a dance with and in honor of cats.
"It's such a gem," says Lieberman, who has two cats of her own (as well as a dog). "It's silly, but also very artful. I love the whole low-tech aesthetic. And there's the kitschy thing with the cats. They have these digital cut-outs and it looks like these stock images of cute kittens that were taken out of some kitten calendar."
Above all, it's a singular meeting of the high and low, she says, "a great interspecies, modern art, feline moment.
Rhonda Lieberman, "The Cats-in-Residence Program," goes on view at an opening reception Sunday at 3 p.m. and runs through Jan. 25 (closed Dec. 25-Jan.1). 356 S. Mission Rd. gallery, 356 S. Mission Road, downtown Los Angeles, 356mission.com.
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